by Maura Keene
AMHERST – The Amherst Town Council devoted meeting time to its procedures and policy needs, and heard about the challenges of funding major town projects.
Council President Lynn Griesemer introduced a new public comment policy, asking for comment after each substantive discussion, and before any vote.
The meeting opened with a discussion of proposed large capital projects by Capital Projects Manager Sean Mangano, and Town Manager Paul Bockelman. Mangano presented a tool that will soon be available on the town website, to enable citizens to see how costs and construction dates for town building projects will affect local debt and property taxes.
Pending projects include replacement or renovation of one or more elementary schools, a new Department of Public Works facility, a new Fire Station and renovation of the Jones Library.
The proposed projects combined cost in the neighborhood of $150 million without state reimbursement. Town Comptroller Sonia Aldrich said Amherst can borrow up to $100 million based on the value of property in town, but it is unlikely that it could repay such a large debt. The cost of a 600-student elementary school to replace Fort River and Wildwood is uncertain, she said.
Farmer’s Market Approved. Questions Raised Over Lack of Fees
Use of roads and parking was approved for the Farmer’s Market from April 20 through November 16, along with the Half Marathon to benefit the Survival Center on November 10, and the Amherst Garden Club plant sale on May 17. All are returning events benefiting nonprofit organizations.
The Farmers’ Market is in its 48th year, and Council members were positive about the contributions such events make to the town. Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke questioned the use of town parking spaces without a fee, and it was decided that the Governance, Organization and Legislation Committee (GOL) should develop a policy on use of public ways for short-term and long-term use.
The Council discussed appointing non-voting community members to the Finance Committee, and noted that a number of people expressed interest. However, the Council decided that with the budget cycle to begin soon, it would be better to wait until the fiscal year beginning July 1 to add community members.
Barbara Pierson, of the League of Women Voters of Amherst, stated that in excluding community members, the Council was forfeiting the chance to obtain community input in the formulation of the budget
The Outreach, Communications and Appointments Committee (OCA) is working on how it will choose community members for Council committees. Councilor Pat DeAngelis said the committees should reflect the diversity present in the community.
Items proposed for future discussion include progress on the project to convert the former East Street School to apartments, a report from the Transportation committee, proposed changes to the state seal, and plans to renovate the North Amherst library.
The town’s community outreach officers are developing a website for the Town Council, and are helping the councilors organize district meetings.
The meeting was attended by a group of UMass journalism students.