The Community Preservation Act Committee (CPAC) is under pressure to act on a Jones Library request for $1 million for a new Special Collections space as part of the library expansion project. The request was left off the list of CPAC-recommended projects that were approved by the Amherst Town Council on June 15th.
A final CPAC vote on the request was to have occurred at a meeting on June 11th but the meeting was cancelled at the last minute due to a Zoom link mixup. It has now been posted for June 30th. Reached by email, CPAC Chair Nate Budington said the delay was due to challenges in committee members’ schedules.
The Minority Report that Budington and two other members of the Committee wrote urging the Committee to reject the Jones request has drawn attention in the past two weeks. So far, 17 letters urging rejection and three urging approval have been posted in the CPAC meeting packet for June 30th. Of the three in favor of approval, one was a rebuttal by CPAC members Robin Fordham and Sarah Eisinger to the minority report, one was from Amherst Historical Commission chair Jane Wald, and the third from “Jones Library, Inc.” (unsigned).
The Indy emailed Library Director Sharon Sharry to ask who wrote the memo on behalf of “Jones Library, Inc.” and if the Trustees had signed off on it. Sharry responded that Jones Library Inc. is the Trustees and the Library Director, and that the Trustees asked the Friends of the Jones to undertake the fundraising for the expansion/renovation project. “This rebuttal was written pursuant to that,” she said.
She added that the Trustees did not vote on the statement due to insufficient time to post a meeting but that “the positions espoused have been known to be those of the Library, and drafts were seen by the Library Director and the Chair of the Trustees.”
The Jones’ letter says CPAC “should take much more comfort from relying on KP Law’s professional qualifications, obligation to defend its position, and the liability insurance behind it, than on the other, informal sources, which have no such obligation or insurance.” It warns of “even greater legal and political risk” if the CPA committee “refuses to follow the opinion of the Town Counsel.”
Although the writers of the minority report argue that the library’s request violates the state-mandated regulations governing the use of CPA funds, the library letter asserts that the grant is permitted under the law and that it fulfils the intention of the CPA. “Neither the Town nor the Committee are well-served by the Committee serving as its own attorney,” it says.
Letters opposing the funding request predominantly supported the Minority Report and connected the request to the larger expansion project.
Jeff Lee wrote, “I feel that this expenditure is poorly timed, of questionable priority, disproportionally large and has not been sufficiently vetted by the public…I believe that the decision by the CPAC to allocate such a significant expenditure toward a project that has long been a source of contention should receive more public scrutiny and input before moving forward.”
Former Trustee President Sarah McKee, wrote, “it is fair to say that the [Department Of Revenue] interpretation of the Community Preservation Act outweighs that of [Town attorney] KP Law… It is therefore to be regretted that the Town has evidently failed to follow up with the DOR on the issue.”
Before the CPAC meeting was cancelled on June 11th, an attendee asked staff liaison to CPAC, Anthony Delaney, if the Town would be setting up a call with the DOR to clarify if the request was allowable under the CPA. Delaney responded that it was doubtful due to the challenge of scheduling the Town Attorney and the DOR on the same call.
In the Jones’ application for CPA funding, it is counted toward the $6 million of private fundraising, which was confirmed by both Trustee President Austin Sarat and Matt Blumenfeld of the Financial Development Agency (FDA) when they presented the application to CPAC on January 23rd. FDA is an Amherst-based fundraising consulting firm that was retained by the Jones to assist with marketing and fundraising for the expansion project.
At the CPAC meeting on January 30th, Delaney said it is the Town Finance Department’s view that the CPA project would be considered part of the Town funding, not private fundraising. The Town’s portion of the cost was previously estimated at $15.9 million.
Ultimately, if the expansion project is to move forward, the Town will have to commit to the full cost, and the state grant and any funds raised by the Friends would reduce the amount to be borrowed. Debt service on the CPA borrowing, if approved, would be paid out of the CPA tax surcharge revenues, while debt service on other Town borrowing would come out of cash capital. See this article for a more detailed report on the costs of the library expansion project.