Comerford, Athol Selectboard review community’s needs

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford met with the Selectboard on May 2, where she discussed some legislative priorities of importance to the town. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 5/10/2023 4:56:43 PM
Modified: 5/10/2023 4:56:42 PM

ATHOL – In November of last year, Northampton Democrat Jo Comerford was re-elected to a third term in the state Senate, a position she has held since 2019.

In 2022, the Town of Athol – along with a handful of Worcester County communities – was added to her district as a result of redistricting following completion of the 2020 census. For that reason, Comerford stopped by the May 2 meeting of the town’s Selectboard to introduce herself to its members.

Comerford told the board she is filling “the big shoes of Anne Gobi,” who represented Athol in the Senate for several years. Comerford said the new Hampshire, Franklin, and Worcester district encompasses 25 cities and towns with an approximate population of 175,000.

In introducing herself, Comerford outlined her Senate committee appointments, including chair of Higher Education, vice chair of Agriculture, assistant vice chair of Ways and Means, Senate Rules, and Economic Development.

Comerford addressed some of the issues which local officials have raised with her office, the first being unrestricted state aid, which she described as “critically important to communities like Athol.”

“That kind of baseline funding, or sustained funding, is really important,” she stressed. “It just hasn’t gone up as much as inflation and costs have gone up. One of my own priorities in the Senate is an increase in unrestricted government aid, with communities like Athol in mind.”

She also touched on the continuing debate of Host Community Agreements, signed by municipalities and cannabis-related businesses wishing to set up shop in any given city or town. Town Manager Shaun Suhoski has been among those leading the effort that any changes in the rules governing HCAs made by the Cannabis Control Commission don’t run retroactively, thus voiding the some thousand or so agreements already negotiated.

“The bill that came out of committee actually did say the Host Community Agreements should be retroactive,” Comerford said. “I actually objected to that very strongly. You’re budgeting on those (HCAs), and we just can’t turn on a dime that quickly.”

Comerford said the bill that made it to the Senate floor “did not look backwards. So, we’re really pushing the CCC to have an interpretation…that will not penalize communities; so that it will only be for Host Community Agreements going forward.”

Comerford also updated the board on a home rule petition the town filed in 2022 asking the Legislature’s permission to establish a rent control board to oversee manufactured home parks in Athol. At this point, she said, the petition is just starting to make its way through the legislative process.

The senator also lauded the town for its efforts to create more affordable housing, particularly the work it is doing with NewVue Communities of Fitchburg to transform the former Bigelow and Riverbend schools into several dozen units of affordable housing. She added that she will work to try and secure state funding to help support the project.

“I think Athol should be viewed as a real model for other rural and smaller towns that don’t have the benefit of gateway cities’ money and urban development and urban grants sometimes that just don’t ever reach us – or we don’t fit,” board member Rebecca Bialecki said. “So, thank you.”

Greg Vine can be reached at

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