SBETC director responds to public officials’ criticism

As the executive director and the officers of Southern Berkshire Elderly Transportation Corporation, we feel we need to respond to some of the comments made by town manager Mark Pruhenski and Rene Wood, chair of the Sheffield Board of Selectmen, about our service.

The facts are that SBETC is a small private non-profit and has been hit very hard by COVID-19 as have many small businesses. SBETC had been discussing a contract renewal with town manager Mark Pruhenski for months. SBETC had been willing to negotiate but also wanted the issues of our hours at the center to be addressed. SBETC requested to be in the building earlier and stay later than the senior center hours due to the needs of our riders. After having this discussion, we felt we were no longer wanted in the building.

Our decision to close was finalized when Mr. Pruhenski decided not to renew our contract with the town.

Our service had expanded over the last five years to include going as far north as Pittsfield at no extra cost to the towns we served. SBETC had also not asked the town of Great Barrington for an increase in funding in seven years due to our space in the senior center.

As far as SBETC shutting down at the beginning of the pandemic when no one really knew what to do, we made this choice, which was the right choice, because we did not have any personal protective equipment. Without the proper PPE, we could not perform our jobs safely. The safety of our riders and employees has always been our top priority!

When this decision was made and the towns were notified, not one town offered us any assistance. The last week in March that we had cleaning products, we had a total of two riders. Our riders and their families were listening to what the state was saying and were staying home and many still are!

In response to Rene Wood, chair of the Sheffield Select Board, to our knowledge Sheffield withdrew from our service because we asked for an increase in funding due to an increase in service. That increase cost was nowhere near what it costs Sheffield today.

I am very proud of the job our employees have done and for the service SBETC has provided for 36 years! As we all know, things change and good things do come to an end. It is time to move forward.

Grace Zbell and Amy Rutstein, as officers and Jane Green as one of the founders of SBETC, agree with me and wish all our riders the very best and thank you all for your support over the years!

Dawn Valinaggi
Executive Director
Southern Berkshire Elderly Transportation Corporation