Editor’s note: Town Manager Paul Bockelman submits 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. During the August 3,2020 meeting, the Council did not get to the Town Manager’s report on the agenda. It will be discussed at the special meeting scheduled for August 10.
What follows is an edited version of the Town Manager’s Report. The original report can be found here.
Town Manager Update:
Mask Order: The Board of Health approved a mask order for the general downtown area effective August 3rd. The order and map can be found here:
UMass: The Town and University have established a working group to facilitate communication and provide a place for sharing information and making decisions in real time. The press release can be found here.
Parking: Parking enforcement officers will be redeployed to the downtown area to restart parking enforcement beginning August 3rd. The press release can be found here.
Puffer’s Pond: Puffer’s Pond is a real success story. We have had a lot of positive feedback on the changes. It started with the creative reorganizing of State Street – a project by the DPW with input from Police and Fire Departments – that made State Street one-way and rationalized parking in marked spaces. Then, with the onset of COVID-19, the Assistant Town Manager introduced a new monitoring system at the entrance on State Street and at the entrance to the pond with an assemblage of staff from various departments. This new team has melded well and created a welcoming atmosphere that has been welcomed by regular pond-goers. Congratulations on a great team effort to create a better place.
Coffee with Town Manager:
The last Cuppa Joe was on Friday, July 24th with Chamber of Commerce Director Claudia Pazmany and Business Improvement District Director Gabrielle Gould were the guests.
The next Cuppa Joe is scheduled for August 14th at 8:00 a.m.
Call-in shows: We continue our Community Chats on a weekly basis. We have had the Police Chief, Director of Senior Services, and the Emergency Management Director/Fire Chief, the Assistant Town Manager/Director of Conservation and Development, Superintendent of Public Works, Director of LSSE, Council President, School Superintendent, Finance Director, and Town Clerk. Thursday’s Chat focused on issues for
Seniors featuring the Director of Senior Services. The show can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8nALNqJ_g4&feature=youtu.be
I continue to seek members to serve on the Agricultural Commission, Affordable Housing Trust, Cultural Council, CDBG Advisory Committee, Community Preservation Act Committee, Council on Aging, Disability Access Advisory Committee, Human Rights Commission, Leisure Services and Supplemental Education (LSSE) Commission, Public Art Commission, and Public Shade Tree Committee.
I have appointed Assistant Town Manager M. David Ziomek as the Temporary Town Manager for the period of August 16-22, 2020.
I will be submitting names for the Elementary School Building Committee to the Town Council on August 4th to ensure the Town Council has ample time to review the appointments.
Outreach and Community Participation Officers (CPOs):
Complete Count – United States Census: The CPOs have been promoting the census in many ways with mailings, social media, and personal appeals.
Free Masks: The Masks for All initiative continues to draw interest and remains very popular.
Outreach: CPOs have been pivotal as we continue to conduct outreach in these strange times and are successful by making themselves available in a variety of settings.
Town-Gown (this information is repeated from the last report):
The College will be open to its residential students beginning August 20th and the semester will run until November 20th.
The Spring semester will run from February 2nd until May 15th.
The College expects to be at ~50% occupancy which is about 550 students.
The College will utilize UMass contact tracing services, have daily health monitoring, and offer Isolation and Quarantine shelters on campus.
There will be a limitations on visitors and they have few students off campus (~25)
The College will be open to its residential students beginning August 24th and the semester will run until November 20th.
The Spring semester will run from February 3rd until May 23rd.
The College expects to have 1,200 – 1, 250 students on campus (~60% capacity).
The College conduct daily testing, have daily health monitoring, and offer Isolation and Quarantine shelters on campus or in neighboring motels.
There will be a limitations on visitors and they have few students off campus (<50)
Students are required to sign a “Statement of Shared Responsibility” and are expected to restrict their time to being on-campus only.
University of Massachusetts at Amherst (see above):
The University will be open to its residential students beginning August 24th and the semester will run until November 20th.
The Spring semester will run from January 19th until May 6th.
The University will be open to an unknown number of its residential students with significant restrictions on the campus and on the staff and students.
The University is building the capacity to conduct daily testing, have daily health monitoring, and offer Isolation and Quarantine shelters on campus, but only for those students living on-campus.
Off-campus students: We anticipate a larger than normal number of students will be in Town this summer and that many students will be living off-campus during the Fall. Staff have been discussing the impact this may have for public safety and public health and we will be meeting with the colleges and University to discuss the issues this population of students is likely to raise. We are told from large landlords that parents are seeking to rent apartments so that their students can have “a true college experience.”
The Town Clerk presented an option for centralized voting to the Town Council at its meeting on July 20th. The Town Council will determine if this is a good idea or not at its meeting on August 3rd.
Voting by mail is available to all voters this year, no excuse required – or accepted! Information may be found here: https://www.amherstma.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=2683
The Clerk’s office has an enormous amount of work this year with the introduction of mail-in voting and the expansion of early voting. The various options have created confusion among voters generating numerous calls to the office.
The Town is gearing up for the academic season. Police officers have been responding to numerous complaints about house parties and noise disturbances.
The Police Department is exploring the possibility of obtaining – at no cost – a “comfort dog” who will prove useful during stressful situations for people and be a good “ice-breaker” when interacting with the public.
I have authorized the Fire Department to fill two vacant positions and fill a third position in anticipation of an upcoming retirement to maintain adequate staffing. I have also authorized the employment of additional temporary staffing which will be paid out of COVID-19 CARES act funding.
Searches are being conducted for the Health Director and Human Resources Director positions. Review teams are reviewing applications and conducting interviews. We have two strong pools of applicants and will move forward with deliberate speed in filling these positions.
I have interviewed and filled two vacant firefighter positions and hired a third position in anticipation of an upcoming vacancy in the Spring.
The new travel order from the Governor has required the Town to establish new rules for Town employees traveling outside the 8 approved states. Information can be found here: https://www.amherstma.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=2686
Household Hazardous Waste Day: DPW will hold the collection at the Fort River School on August 15th. Information can be found here: https://www.amherstma.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=2682
Mill River Basketball Courts: With passage of the capital funds, the DPW will be repaving the basketball courts at Mill River.
Bids have been awarded for new work utilizing existing funds including a full depth reclamation with asphalt injection of Henry Street, Pine Street, and Bridge Street.
Design work is underway for North East Street and Snell Street.
DPW crews are now on Old North Pleasant Street and Kendrick Park to make the changes necessary to connect the new park to the sidewalk system.
Downtown: DPW placed picnic benches in the Boltwood Garage area and we are seeking additional seating areas in Sweetser Park and on the North Common. DPW has been fast in establishing outdoor dining areas on North Pleasant Street, South Pleasant Street, Main Street, and Amity Street.
Budget: The Town Council approved the budget as presented at its meeting on July 20th. The Town Manager will be working to examine alternatives to policing and will hold filling two anticipated vacancies in the Police Department in abeyance until that review is completed which will be no later than January 31, 2021.
COVID-19: The finance department continues to submit reimbursements for COVID-19 funding from FEMA and the Federal CARES Act.
The Department of Revenue reported that the two major sources of State Aid to the Town would be level funded at this time.
The Governor and the Legislature stated that they are committing to no less than the FY20 level of funding for UGGA and Chapter 70 education aid as a baseline amount for FY21 funding.
The FY21 funding commitment also includes Chapter 70 increases for inflation and enrollment that will keep all school districts at foundation, under the law as it existed for FY20, providing an additional $107 million in aid over FY20. This increase comes in addition to approximately $450 million in new federal supports for K-12 schools to assist with educating students during the pandemic.
This is the scenario we had presented to the Town Council and, if the State holds true, the Town will not have to access its reserves for FY21.
Community Choice Aggregation: The Town is working on the development of an aggregation plan that will be submitted to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities and the creation of a legal Joint Powers Agreement that would be entered into by the Towns of Amherst and Pelham and the City of Northampton. We are about to engage a specialized law firm to provide legal advice utilizing State funds to pay for the legal time.
The Municipal Vulnerabilities Preparedness (MVP) Action Grant: The Energy and Climate Action Committee is holding a series of subcommittee meetings with Community Leaders and stakeholders. There are four Task Groups holding a series of three meetings each through September.
Leisure Services: Staff have been reallocated to work at Cherry Hill, Puffers Pond, and Groff Park.
The Director of Senior Services is engaged in fund-raising effort to raise enough money to purchase iPad type devices for seniors who may not have access to the digital world.
She says, “Do you love going on social media seeing what your friends are up to? Social hours on Zoom? Taking virtual classes? So do older adults! Please help me raise money to purchase tablets to create a technology loan program for the Amherst Senior Center so older adults can visit family & friends, access telehealth medical visits, take classes, and socialize.”
She will be running almost 200 miles (like running to Provincetown) to encourage people to donate. https://www.gofundme.com/f/move-amp-groove-to-close-the-digital-divide
The Board of Health voted to implement a requirement for facial coverings in the downtown area. Signs will be installed. See attached order and map.
Signs will be placed at the entrances to the “masks required” area to help inform the public.
With the support of the Department of PublicWorks, new signs have been installed throughout Town encouraging people to wear masks, maintain social distance, and avoid social gatherings.
Conservation and Development:
Emergency Rental Assistance Program: The Town has dedicated $250,000 in taxpayer funds to support income-eligible renters in meeting their rental requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additional information can be found here: https://www.amherstma.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=2672
DOT Grant: The Town applied for funds from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation for temporary changes. We are refining the grant application to make it more competitive in the eyes of the Department of Transportation.
CDBG-CARES Act Funding: The Town was awarded $321,577 in CDBG-CARES Act funding from the Department of Housing and Community Development. This is less than was requested and we are reviewing the award to determine next steps. The following is the adjusted program budget. I prioritized small businesses, food security, and support for those in need.
|Town of Amherst & Valley CDC||Grants eligible micro businesses (less than 5 employees)||$160,000.00|
|Amherst Survival Center||Costs associated with increased demand for food pantry||$90,000.00|
|Family Outreach of Amherst||Caseworker position to help with COVID impacts such as rental assistance, budgeting, employment, and childcare||$52,000.00|
|The Literacy Project||Costs associated with distance learning and job training||$0.00|
|Craig’s Doors||Support for Resource Center to help with case management and housing placement for homeless individuals||$19,577.00|