Town Manager Paul Bockelman makes a comprehensive report to the Town Council at each of its regular meetings. The reports, usually 12 to 15 pages, provide up-to-date information on what is happening within and across Town departments. The Manager’s Report is usually one of the last items on the agenda and is often taken up late at night, leaving little time for the Manager to do more than mention a few highlights and this is usually all that gets entered into the Council minutes.
In response to reader requests, we have excerpted some highlights from the latest Town Manager report. The full report to the Council for February 24, 2020 can be found here.
Town Manager Report – February 24, 2020 – Highlights
Coffee with Town Manager: The last coffee was on February 14th with the Town’s new Principal Assessor, Liz Duffy at Bruegger’s Bagels. The next coffee will be on March 13th.
District One Neighborhood Association: I will be presenting the proposal for the privately funded renovations to the North Amherst Library at the Association’s meeting on February 23rd. This will be much of the same information that I presented to the Town Council at its last meeting.
District Three Meeting: I will be attending the District Three meeting on March 1st to discuss the capital projects utilizing the presentation that was used for the Listening Sessions. The Town Council President and other Town Councilors will also participate and/or be present.
I am interviewing applicants for several committees including the Conservation Commission and Board of License Commissioners.
Complete Count – United States Census: Town staff continue to work to ensure full participation in the 2020 U.S. Census. The Census is very important to the Town for state and Federal funding. We are considered 9th hardest to count community in the State due to the demographics of our participation, so a concerted effort to engage residents and help them return census forms is a priority for Town staff. The Complete Count team and the leadership of State Representative Domb continues to do outreach throughout the Town.
At and after the Four Towns Meeting February 1st, the Regional School District received significant feedback from member towns. In addition, the District received favorable financial information about the official health care rate for next year as well as about regional transportation aid projections. As a result, the District is able to offer new financial figures to reduce assessments. The Regional School District Committee is reviewing the Superintendent’s recommendation of moving forward with the 45% Statutory method. With the new figures, each town’s assessment is either very close to or less than it was under the 40% Statutory method presented on February 1.
Staff have been working with representatives from the Town of Hadley to explore ways we can work together on water and sewer issues. Currently, we are focused on a “mutual aid agreement” that would provide redundancy and back-up for both communities. Any inter-municipal agreement will require the approval of the Town Council.
K-P Law represents both the Town of Hadley and the Town of Amherst. I have provided written permission to them to review these documents for both communities. The Town of Hadley has subsequently also provided permission so the Town Attorney can move forward on reviewing the agreements.
Town-Gown: Strategic Partnership Agreement
The Town and University reached an agreement that addresses the cost of educating K-12 students who live in tax-exempt housing in Amherst. The University will provide approximately $185,000 per year for three years, starting in the current fiscal year, to support the schools.
The funding addresses the financial impact of K-12 students who live in tax-exempt housing on campus and attend Amherst schools. The University and the Town of Amherst, with direct involvement of the Amherst schools, reached the agreement following an independent study conducted by the Donahue Institute.
The agreement mentioned above is one aspect of a broad, multi-year Strategic Partnership Agreement, which is still being negotiated. Institute, which explored different funding formulas. Staff are meeting regularly with representatives of the University on a renewal of the Strategic Partnership Agreement.
Hampshire College will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first entering class on October 16-18.
Kanegasaki Sister City
Fourteen students and three chaperones from the Town’s sister city in Kanegasaki, Japan will be visiting the Town from March 18-22. There will be a modest welcoming reception on March18th at a time to be determined. All Town Councilors are invited to attend this reception.
Seven families from Amherst Regional Middle School will serve as hosts, and have already started to send out information to families and staff in the community.
At this time, we are still seeking someone to chaperone the guests for a weekend day trip.
Conservation and Development
Additional information has been submitted to the Town regarding the Flood Insurance (FIRM) maps. With this information, we will have the consultant revise the maps. This will restart the 90-day comment period. I will update the Town Council – and the public – when the comment period restarts.
The Assistant Town Manager and I have been meeting with interested parties to assess the roles and responsibilities of an Economic Development Director as we develop the profile for advertising the position. I anticipate we will be prepared to advertise in the next couple of weeks.
The Library was awarded a $1,500 grant from Eversource for its annual “On the Same Page” event that will be happening during the end of February/beginning of March this year.
Town Hall Doors
The front doors and wooden surrounds of Town Hall were removed this week and a temporary door was installed. The entire structure was taken to the contractor’s workshop to be rehabilitated. This work is scheduled to take several months. In the meantime, a basic wooden replacement structure will remain in place and the front entrance will continue to be available for use. Access for the disabled will continue to be available at the Main Street entrance.
The Collector has been working to collect on outstanding parking tickets from those who repeatedly park illegally. Her work, in cooperation with the Police Department and Parking Enforcement Officers, has increased collections.
Work is underway to prepare for the potential spring events at the University. We project that this event will occur on March 7th this year.
The Town has been doing extensive work on educating elementary school students on water and sewer issues. The article at the end of this report is an excellent summary of this work. DPW is seeking to add a 6th grade storm water curriculum next year to meet our MS4 permit requirements.
The Town received an additional $83,898 in Chapter 90 State funds which brings the total Chapter 90 funds for FY20 to $922,883. These funds may be used for the maintenance, modernization, and resiliency of local roads.
I am very pleased to report that our renewal rates for group health insurance increased only 1.89%. This is very good news for employees and for the budgets of the Town, Library, and Schools. We had been budgeting a 6% increase, which is how health insurance costs have been trending. We reviewed these rates and other potential cost saving initiatives with our union employee partners and retirees who sit on the Insurance Advisory Committee.
We are in high gear as we go through all operating and capital budgets a second time with the individual departments. Many needs are being identified, but there are few funds for new additions. We also look at the ongoing and lifecycle costs of adding positions and services.
The Superintendent presented his budget to the Regional School District on February 11th. This budget, which was previewed at the Four-Towns meeting, projects an overall budget increase of just 1.54%, below even the already low five year average of 1.7%. The Regional School Committee is expected to act on the budget request at its March 10th or 24th meeting.
The first Joint Capital Planning Committee was held on February 13th at 8:30 a.m.
The School Committee was represented by Eric Nakajima and Allison McDonald.
The Library Trustees was represented by Tamson Ely and Alexandra Lefebvre.
The Town received a $100,000 Municipal Vulnerabilities Preparedness (MVP) Action Grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEA). The grant funding is designated to hire technical assistance, interpreters/translators, and to engage a community liaison in the development of a Climate Action, Adaptation and Resiliency Plan. These advocates and advisors will work closely with the Town’s Sustainability Coordinator and other staff with advice from the Town’s Energy and Climate Action Committee (ECAC). Congratulations to the Sustainability Coordinator for advocating for this grant.
The three communities involved with the Joint Purchase of Electricity initiative will be reviewing the work of the task force that has been studying the issue.
The Town is exploring the addition of two more Valley BikeShare locations to expand the network. While the bikes and equipment will be provided, there will be a request for Town funds to prepare the space and bring electricity to the locations. There will also be an ongoing fee for operations that I am reviewing for inclusion in the budget.
Town departments are working with the sustainability coordinator to explore alternatives to vehicles that only burn fossil fuels.
Major Capital Projects
Groff Park: Work has concluded for the winter. We are now looking forward to opening the park by Memorial Day in 2020.
DPW/Fire:The Town continues to explore and be open to other sites that might meet the needs and requirements of a location for DPW.
Schools: The Crocker Farm School study will be conducted by TKSP. The Committee had its first meeting last week.
Library: The Library is seeking cost estimates of the work that would need to be done to the building if the renovation is not approved. They have selected Kuhn-Riddle to complete this work. This will provide a firm cost estimate so the Town Council and Board of Library Trustees can make a more informed decision.
Kendrick Park Playground: Staff are working to advance this project as they review the public input on the project.
Performing Arts Shell on the Town Common: The Business Improvement District is working with staff to prepare a more detailed presentation to the Town Council in the near future. The presentation would provide concepts, location, financing, and management suggestions for consideration. The presentation is scheduled before the Town Council on March 23rd.
Parking Structure on Town Land at North Pleasant Street Parking Lot: We will schedule this for the Town Council discussion at an upcoming Town Council meeting.
North Common Restoration/Main Street Parking Lot: The preferred plan has been prepared by the Town’s consultant. This plan, along with other options, will be presented to the Town Council later this year.
Infrastructure Improvements: The Town received a grant to repair a walkway and crosswalks downtown. This work will be designed and work will be done during the construction season.
Hickory Ridge: As reported previously. Awaiting word on the solar program.
East Street School: We met to discuss the next steps. The Town will be doing additional due diligence to gather additional information on stormwater, wetlands, and the condition of the existing building. Once this work is completed, we will reevaluate the RFP.
North Amherst Library: I will be presenting information to the North Amherst Neighborhood Association on Sunday, February 23rd. I will be working with the anonymous donor to secure the donation in a fund that is accessible to the Town and available to move the project forward.
Solar on the Landfill: As previously reported.