RECAP: TOWN COUNCIL MEETING (6/17/19)

Amherst Town Council Meeting, Town Room, Town Hall, Amherst. Photo: Maura Keene

Editor’s note: We were unable to cover the June 3 council meeting. The minutes for that meeting and the June 10 special meetings of the council to declare a public meeting of the residents and to hold a public forum on the budget are now posted on the town website and can be viewed here, and here, and here.

The June 17 council meeting was called to order at 6:30 p.m. All councilors were present except for Sarah Swartz. After some glitches with the Amherst Media sound, the meeting began with announcements.

Announcements

The public hearing on the proposed studio apartment housing at 132 Northampton Road will be held on Monday, June 24 in the Large Activity Room of the Bangs Center.

The Finance Committee will meet June 25 at 9:30 a.m. in the Town Room, Town Hall.

The next regularly scheduled council meeting will be July 1 at 6:30 p.m. and will include the second reading and hearing on proposed zoning bylaw changes.

Old Business

Some budget items that were passed previously with a show of hands but they actually require a roll call vote. Therefore re-votes were taken later in this meeting.

As discussed at the June 3 meeting, Amherst’s water and sewer rates are the lowest in the area. Therefore, the town manager and the finance committee recommended a 2.6 percent increase in both. The water rate will go from $3.80 to $3.90 per 100 cubic feet and the sewer rate from $3.90 to $4.00 per 100 cubic feet. This motion passed 12-0 with little discussion. A comparison of rates for nearby towns can be found here.

Public Comment

At the general public comment, the appointment process and policy of the town manager and town council were questioned by Dillon Maxfield, a former council candidate. He stated that it seemed as if only professionals and business people were appointed to committees, excluding younger and working class residents, but without knowing who applied to the positions, it is impossible to know if certain categories of people are being excluded. (this information is currently deemed confidential by town policy).

The Shabazz family (Amilcar and sons) and Edward Cage announced the annual Juneteenth celebration, commemorating the proclamation of Major General George Granger on June 19, 1865 in Galveston, Texas that all slaves were freed. (This was two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and more than two months after General Robert E. Lee’s surrender.) This meant the end of slavery in all states in the country. The proclamation will be read on the steps of Town Hall at 4 p.m. on June 19, after which there will be a program in the Jones Library. The proclamation passed 12-0.

Attorney Robert Ritchie and Town Planner Christine Brestrup presented proposed revisions to the general bylaws and zoning bylaws. Bernie Kubiac, Geoff Kravitz, and councilors Pat DeAngelis, Alisa Brewer, and Evan Ross are also on the bylaws committee. The general bylaws required changes due to the new form of government, such as changing “Select Board” and “Town Meeting” to “Town Manager” and “Town Council”, and were also organized to be more accessible. The zoning bylaws did not require a lot of changes. The draft is 135 pages long and was passed 6-0 by the planning board on June 5. The charter requires that there be two readings and two legal notices with a 14-day notice of a hearing. The hearing and second reading will be held July 1 at 6:30 p.m. The draft can be read here.

Jim Oldham presented the proposed Community Preservation Act (CPA) projects for the coming year, excluding the Northampton Road apartment project. Almost half of the more than $1.7 million in CPA funds will go to housing through the Municipal Affordable Housing Trust and Amherst Community Connections. Seven percent will go to historic preservation in the West Cemetery, to windows in the North Amherst Community Farmhouse, and to the Historical Society. Thirty-one percent goes to open space, with land acquisition of the Szala property and the Keet Haskins property, as well as for recreation, specifically improvements in the Groff Park and Mill River areas. The full committee report is presented here . The CPAC recommendations were passed 12-0.

The Joint Capital Planning Committee and Capital Improvement Program passed at the June 3 council meeting were passed 12-0 in a roll call vote. Also, a motion to transfer funds from the general budget to cover deficits related to snow and ice removal and for repair of a fire engine was passed by a unanimous roll call vote. The regional school budget and the formula for assessment of towns in the district were also passed by 12-0 roll call votes. These had previously passed in May.

The council agreed by a 12-0 vote to accept the deed to the Kruczek property on the Pelham-Shutesbury border in order to protect Amherst’s water supply. The property is appraised at $81,000 and the state is expected to cover half of the purchase price. The Department of Environmental Protection will finalize the sale with the property owners.

Campaign Finance Reform

The only serious debate of the meeting occurred with discussion of the campaign finance reform proposed by councilors Mandi Jo Hanneke and Evan Ross at the June 3 meeting. Their proposal was to limit donations from individuals to $250 and from PACs to $125 (25 percent of the amounts allowed by the state). Some councilors preferred a limit of 50 percent of what the state allows. This was proposed in an amendment by Hanneke. The amendment was defeated 4 to 8 (Shalini Bahl-Milne, Hanneke, Ross and Andrew Steinberg voted yes). Darcy DuMont and Cathy Schoen thought the measure did not go far enough in that it did not address in-kind donations such as mailings, website development, and lists of email contacts. Bahl-Milne reported that she had reached out to voters and heard from four, all of whom said that limiting campaign donations was important to keep government honest and allow more people to consider running for council. George Ryan and Steve Schreiber thought there was no reason to change the state law. Steinberg said he was disappointed that the divisiveness of the charter campaign was apparent again. Both John Bonifaz of Free Speech for People and Katherine Appy of the Amherst Forward PAC spoke in favor of the limitations, but in the end there was a tie vote 6-6 (Bahl-Milne, Lynn Griesemer, Hanneke, Ross, Ryan, and Schoen voted yes) , so the measure failed.

Other New Business

The Community Resources Committee (CRC) charge was amended . This is a very important council committee that deals with planning, zoning, land use, the master plan, community and economic development, including art and culture, and housing mix, affordability, and neighborhoods. The charge can be read here.

The council unanimously passed appointments to the Conservation Commission by the town manager that were also recommended by the Outreach, Communication and Appointments (OCA) committee. They are: Ana Devlin Gauthier and Laura Pagliarulo, to begin three-year terms immediately; Casey Jo Dufresne to begin a three-year term July 1; Lawrence Ambs to begin a two-year term July1; and Brett Butler reappointed to a two-year term.

The town manager gave a report that cited the efforts of the town’s community participation officers and the LSSE (leisure services) to bring programs and events to apartment complexes, including Butternut Farms and Olympia Oaks.

Town Clerk Margaret Natowicz will step down on June 30. Sue Audette will serve as temporary clerk until the position is filled.

Requests for Proposals for the development of housing at the East Street School will go out in July

Eversource will be replacing some high tension poles as an upgrade over the next four months. Service will not be interrupted

State Street near Puffer’s Pond will now be one-way. Signage is being placed and police officers will be on hand to direct traffic. Concrete is being poured for the temporary bridge on Station Road. There will be fireworks on July 4, but due to construction the event will be held on the other side of the stadium. Parking will be unchanged.

There was a well-attended reception for Nancy Pagano, who has retired from her position as head of the senior center.  She has served the town for forty-seven uninterrupted years, making her the longest-serving employee in Amherst history.

Since the shooting in Virginia Beach, the town has been talking about safety. There will likely be educational sessions on safety in public places.

Councilor Steve Schreiber brought up the reorganizing of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission. Long-term president Tim Brannen is retiring. Previously, Amherst was represented by a member of the planning board and a member of the select board. Connie Kruger of the select board resigned in December with the swearing in of the town council. Currently Jack Jemsek and Christine Gray-Mullen, both from the Amherst planning board, are representing Amherst. Councilor Schreiber strongly felt the council should be represented on this important regional committee.

The council adjourned to executive session at 9:50 p.m. to consider purchase, lease, or exchange of real property.

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