Town Manager’s Report For December 7, 2020

Amherst Town Hall. Photo: Art Keene

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. What follows is an edited version of the Town Manager’s Report.  It is missing a report by Katherine Newman on the Town’s COVID -19 Ambassador Program.  That Appendix to this week’s report can be read here. https://www.amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/53924/12-Town-Manager-Report-12-07-2020-with-Appendix

Town Manager Reports are available on the Town’s website here: Town Manager Reports

Town Manager Update:

  • COVID-19:
    • Hot Line: Calls continue to come in to the hot line, both by telephone and email. Every contact receives an immediate and/or follow-up response as the situation warrants.
    • Ambassadors:
      • The ambassadors are now fully staffed and in the field. Outreach is being modified in response to the lower number of students in Town.
      • A presentation by the coordinator of the ambassadors was made at the District 2 Councilors meeting. The presentation is attached to the end of this report.
      • Senator Comerford and Representative Domb are advocating for funds to continue the Ambassadors program into 2021.
  • Racial Equity:
    • GARE:
      • The Town joined GARE, the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, earlier this year. It is a national network of government entities working to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all. Their website is here: https://www.racialequityalliance.org/
      • Staff attended a workshop in the series by GARE Foundation Series entitled “Advancing Racial Equity: The Role of Government”.
      • We have utilized the GARE website as a resource to see what other towns and cities are doing on diversity, equity, and inclusion. It has been a wonderful spot to read threads about scaffolding the DEI work. Other members of the Team have used GARE to communicate with other cities to learn about their work.
    • Community Safety Working Group: The Community Safety Working Group held its second meeting on Wednesday. They elected Paul Wiley as chair and Brianna Owen as vice-chair. They are meeting weekly on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. through December 23rd.
    •    
    • Core Equity Team:
      • Our Core Equity Team, the employee empowered and led group that is working on racial equity in Town government, has set a goal to create an inclusive government that empowers our employees, elected officials and board and committee members to help residents, businesses, students, and guests feel safe, welcomed, and included in Amherst. There are about ten employees now actively involved in the Core Equity Team.
      • The Core Equity Team is committed to educating Town staff on the importance of racial equity, inclusion, diversity, and social justice. Our Mission will be realized through updating Town policies, procedures, guidelines, and diversification of our workforce. We will seek to extend this work to include members of boards, committees and elected officials.
      • The Core Equity Team is holding weekly team meetings to discuss and develop strategies. They had a retreat last week to focus on shared language and themes for their discussion
      • Next Steps and Action Items include:
        • triaging our priorities identified in retreat for an initial 3-6 month plan;
        • polling staff utilizing the GARE employee survey tool to establish baseline data;
        • identifying local consultant/professional in this space;
        • identify local training opportunities and resources for staff;
        • develop self-directed reading/listening list.
      • Members of the Core Equity Team will be guests on the December 17th Community Chat.
  • Outreach:
    • Coffee with Town Manager:
      • The last Cuppa Joe with Paul was on November 20th and featured the Finance

Director and Comptroller discussing financial issues after the presentation of the financial indicators.

  • The next Cuppa Joe with Paul will be on Friday, December 11th at 8:00 a.m. and will feature Business Improvement District Director Gabrielle Gould, Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce Director Claudia Pazmany, and Director of Placemaking & Special Projects at The Mill District Hanna Rechtschaffen.
  • Community Chats:
    • The Communications Manager and I hosted our 33rd Community Chat with special guest Superintendent Mike Morris, our most popular Chat to date.
    • Our next guest will be Superintendent of Public Works Guilford Mooring on December 10th and members of the Town’s Core Equity Team on December 17th.
    • The Community Chats are every Thursday for 30 minutes…and recorded so you can listen at your convenience.
  • Office Hours: The Communications Manager and I are working to establish virtual office hours via Zoom. This will allow individuals who would like to meet one-on-one with the Town Manager the opportunity to schedule a time during established office hours. We hope to launch this after the New Year.
  • Web Site: We will be launching our web refresh, with custom domains for the Police Department and Amherst Recreation on December 14th. While this is a refresh, and not a

full-blown redesign, it has taken a big commitment from the Communications Manager and department content managers.

  • Engage Amherst: We are working on a new platform, called “Bang the Table”, that we will utilize to engage members of the public as an additional way for the public to learn about and comment on specific projects. Our first test project with this platform will be the North Amherst Library.
  • Content: Our library of recorded content is growing exponentially with the ability to record all meetings via Zoom. These videos are posted on the Town’s YouTube channel. Our YouTube watch time in hours went from 43.1 hours in 2019 to 383.6 in 2020. And by views in increase nearly six-fold from 609 in 2019 to 3,403 views in 2020. Our content additions, playlists, and interventions have been very successful. The most popular videos are the Community Chats, Cuppa Joes, and How-tos.
  • In the Community:
    • The Town offered free flu shots the Fort River School on Thursday. This was a collaboration between the Health Department and the School District.
    • The Town offered free COVID-19 tests at the Community Breakfast for the unhoused community and others with the Public Health Director, Senior Director, and Town Manager greeting visitors as they were picking up breakfast or emerging from the Shelter. A physician from Health Care for the Homeless and a local volunteer physician were there to conduct the tests.
  • Appointments: I am interviewing applicants to serve on the Agricultural Commission, Disability Access Advisory Committee, Public Art Commission, and Public Shade Tree Committee.
  • Town-Gown:
    • Semester: Classes for the University and colleges ended the week before Thanksgiving. Campuses will reopen in January.
    • Committee: The Town and University reopening working group will meet on December 10th and then again on January 7th.
  • Town Staff:
    • Childcare: The Town is offering childcare services for school aged children through the Recreation Department. We are in conversation with the School Department to explore the possibility of expanding this program.

Departments:

  • Town Clerk:
    • Town Clerk Shavena Martin submitted her resignation. Her last day of employment is December 11th. We will conduct a search for a new Town Clerk.
    • The Temporary Town Clerk is developing a calendar for the 2021 election. While still under review, the draft has nomination papers becoming available on June 1st with nomination papers due by September 14th. The Town election will be on November 2nd. The election will elect 13 Town Councilors, six Jones Library Trustees, five School Committee members, one Oliver Smith Will Elector, and three members of the Amherst Housing Authority.
  • Public Safety:
    • The Police Department has been awarded a $20,383 Federal grant funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for highway safety enforcement.
  • The Police Department has been awarded $11,552 for the purchase of safety and training equipment.
  • Ambulance and emergency calls continue to be at an all-time low with calls coming in at about half of what they are normally. There has only been a handful of ambulance transports of students this semester. Typically, there are 5-10 every weekend.
  • We continue to employ five additional full-time firefighters to support the Fire Department and ensure adequate support staff are available for our critical first responders.
  • The Fire Chief and his team are busy securing resources for the next several months and working with other communities to find emergency accommodations for first-responders and others in the event quarantine quarters are required.
  • Human Resources:
    • The Town’s part-time wage study is being reviewed by staff and will be discussed by the Personnel Board at its meeting on December 16th.
  • Public Works:
    • DPW crews removed the temporary barriers today in anticipation of the upcoming weekend storm as the Fall dining season moves toward conclusion. Staff will be prepared to reintroduce these areas in the spring.
  • Finance:
    • COVID-19: Between the first-round request of CARES funds and this round we have requested a total of $3,111,385 which leaves $371,504 remaining on the grant. This is a good safety net to cover anything that FEMA may reject. The Finance Director has been managing these funds and matching the expenditures with the appropriate funding source. In total, with FEMA, expenditures are projected to be around $4.5 million.
  • Sustainability:
    • The Town received a $125,998 grant from the Department of Energy Resources Green Community Division to update lighting at the Munson Library, Police Station, and Town Hall and to implement idle reduction technology for Town vehicles, which will be utilized on the new Ambulance being requested.
  • Community Services:
    • December Dinner Delights:
      • The Town has joined with the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce and Amherst Business Improvement District to provide 100 meals twice a week to Amherst families affected by Covid-19.
      • The Town has dedicated $10,000 from CARES Act funding towards feeding these families in need. This funding is being matched with $5,000 contributed from the Downtown Amherst Foundation through the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce and Amherst Business Improvement District (BID).
      • The Town is working with Family Outreach of Amherst to connect families in need with the meals. Meals will be purchased from local restaurants to support our local businesses. Family Outreach has identified 100 recipients for the program.
      • The meals program represents an extension of the work of the social work outreach position at Family Outreach of Amherst that was funded by the Town to identify and close the gap of community unmet need due to COVID-19.
      • The Chamber and the BID have recruited ten local restaurants to provide 1,000 locally prepared dinners during the month of December. The participating

restaurants are: Bistro 63, El Comalito, Veracruzana, Wheelhouse, Miss Saigon, Pasta e Basta, Kaiju, Osteria Vespa, Shanghai Gourmet, and Fresh Side. On Christmas Eve families will receive a Henion Bakery pie as a special gift for the children made possible through support from Toy Box, AJ Hastings and Amherst Books.

  • Town Social Worker: The Town has contracted with Family Outreach of Amherst to secure the services of a social worker to work with families negatively impacted by

Covid-19. In the first two weeks of the program, about a dozen families were served. Most are facing multiple issues such as job loss, food insecurity, health needs, and housing needs. The working poor are among the hardest hit members of our community. The upward trend for assistance is anticipated to continue.

  • Senior Services Initiative:
    • Social isolation in home-dwelling elderly is a risk factor for functional decline.
    • The Director of Senior Services has partnered with the University to engage four nursing students in their senior year who will work with identified older adults through the Senior Center. All work will be performed remotely under the supervision of Karen Ranen, Senior Health Services Nurse.
    • A side benefit is that this program will strengthen relations with University’s School of Nursing.
    • The Director of Senior Services is moving towards conducting a needs assessment of seniors in low income housing and developing supports for aging in place at a time when movement to a long-term care setting carries increasing danger of disease transmission.
  • Unhoused Population:
    • I participated in a conference call with other municipal chief executives in western Massachusetts with Health and Human Services Secretary Mary Lou Sudders, MEMA Director Samantha Phillips, and Linn Torto, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness.
    • I, and others, presented compelling information on the need for Isolation and Quarantine (I&Q) space in western Massachusetts.
    • Secretary Sudders reported that a Request for Proposals to open an I&Q site in western Massachusetts was being issued.
    • The Town has secured a space that includes rest rooms, showers, and meeting space for things like medical appointments in close proximity to the Unitarian Universalist Society building. Having showers available to the guests of Craigs Doors was a requirement of the Board of Health. The Town has offered the space to the operators of Craigs Doors for fixed period of time. Credit to the Town staff for finding and securing access to this space.
  • Recreation:
    • Name Change: After concluding outreach and its strategic plan, the LSSE Commission will be changing its name to Amherst Recreation. They have established a name change subcommittee to update the Commission’s logo and work on logistics for rolling out the name change. The winter brochure will include the name change.
    • Cherry Hill Golf Course:
      • The golf course closed on November 15th.
  • Revenues for the month of November continued the golf course’s strong revenue performance this year, setting another record month.
  • LSSE has utilized existing staff to operate Cherry Hill this year.
  • The LSSE Commission is organizing a group to examine the operations and future of the Cherry Hill Golf Course.
  • Staff are working with the School District to develop plans to utilize the Middle School pool for lap swimming. This is likely to happen in mid-January.
  • LSSE-run childcare services opened on October 26th at the Middle School after securing all required licensing and staffing. There are about 20 children in the program.
  • Staff are working with the Chamber and the BID to develop creative programming for Winterfest, which is likely to come at a bleak time during February.
  • Senior Center:
    • Tax Work-off Program:
      • The Director of Senior Services, working with the Principal Assessor and Finance Director, was able to develop an alternative for seniors who utilize the property tax work off program.
      • This program permits qualifying seniors to “work off” a portion of their tax bill with service in a Town department. The Collector’s office and Senior Center have utilized these workers extensively.
      • However, with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the opportunity to work for these seniors has disappeared.
      • As permitted by State law, staff developed a program where others may volunteer time and substitute this time for seniors unable to work.
      • This has been a win-win. Much needed Town work is getting done. Volunteers are pleased to be able to help seniors. And seniors gain the benefit of the tax break.
      • There are 29 participants in the program. Proxy donations equated to 3,200 hours of work accounting for $43,500 of tax benefits for the seniors.
  • Health Department:
    • Health staff are conducting targeted flu clinics as they have done in the past. These efforts have been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic but the Public Health Nurse has been offering shots at the Survival Center, Craig’s Doors, and the community breakfast for the unhoused. Most recently, the Town offered free flu shots the Fort River School on Thursday. This was a collaboration between the Health Department and the School District.
  • Economic Development:
    • Small Business COVID Recovery Grants Program: The Town has been awarded federal funds through the CARES Act to support local small businesses hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Valley Community Development Corporation will act as Program Administrator for the application and selection process to award one-time grants up to

$10,000 for businesses located in Amherst. Those interested may visit the Amherst Small Business COVID Recovery Grants Program webpage for eligibility criteria, resources and full details. The online application portal opened for applications on November 2nd.

  • Alcoholic Beverages Fee Reduction: At its meeting on October 15th, the Board voted a one-time 40% reduction in fees. This will support our local restaurants in these difficult times. The reduction in fees was anticipated in our budget projections.
  • All liquor license holders renewed their liquor licenses for 2021 except for Judie’s.
  • Conservation and Development:
    • Grant: Working with the Department of Public Works, Chamber of Commerce, and Business Improvement District, the Town was awarded a Shared Streets grant of

$129,472.20. The grant will pay for increased pedestrian and cyclist safety with lighting improvements and ADA improvements, expanded outdoor dining areas and lengthening the time for dining (heaters), promoting bus ridership with customer-activated heated bus shelters, and creating an inviting streetscape with improved landscaping.

  • Emergency Rental Assistance:
  • ADA Transition Plan: Consultants are finalizing a draft of the transition plan.
  • Information Technology (I.T.):
    • The Town is participating in a program, led by the Innovation Institute of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC) aimed at local “government innovators”. The program aims to help local leaders understand blockchain and its potential applications in local government. The MTC assesses that, in contrast to higher levels of government, municipalities have greater flexibility to assess and test blockchain applications. I applaud our I.T. staff for being on the cutting edge of this technological advance which may assist the town in promoting economic development.
    • I-Net: The Town has contracted with Comcast to continue operating the institutional network which services the Town and school functions. Work will begin on installing the replacement I-Net in the near future.

Delegated Authority (November 2020):

  • Short-Term Event Uses of Town Commons: None
  • Short-Term Parking Requests: None
  • Short-Term Road or Sidewalk Closures: None
  • Other: Approved use of Kendrick Park for use by the Boy Scouts of America Troops 500B, 500G, and 504 from November 11, 2020 to January 3, 2021.

Public Way Update:

  • Amherst Farmers Market: The Farmers Market Manager wrote:
    • “The 2020 season has been fraught with many variables from the COVID-19 epidemic and it presented many challenges going into, and throughout, the 2020 Market

season. One of the frustrations simply being the ‘unknown’ territory we were all entering back in April, May and ultimately into the summer. Frankly, looking back to March and April during the planning stages, I wasn’t even sure we would HAVE a Market in Amherst for the 2020 season, much less actually finishing the season out!?

  • Not only did we have a Market but, we had, what many have said/reported, the BEST Market season in the lifetime of the AFM since its inception in the nascent days of 1972! For 2020 we were allowed to set up on, and consume the entirety of, the Amherst Common which made the Market more ‘agrarian’ in nature and perhaps more pure in

intention of what bucolic, New England central gathering spots like town commons are to be used for, with the feedback from vendors and clientele alike being “the place to be…”

  • Briefly, we had to delay opening for about 6 weeks, starting on May 30th when we normally begin the season on the 3rd Saturday of April. That put sales a little behind the 8-ball. Luckily, we did have all member vendors register for the season, so we went into 2020 with the full support of 37 members ready to go! “Ready to go” was the question though as re-habituating something/people/vendors/processes that had been in the Spring Street parking lot for the previous 48 years, moving it, redesign it, and implementing all new logistics was a bit worrying.
  • The Market also had over 20 vendors/businesses approach us to join for inclusion but due to all of the various unknowns we elected to not take in any new members for 2020 and further until we’ve figured it all out. ALL of the vendors, sans one, have reported record/best sales ever. Period. The saying is that “what used to be a good Saturday in the Spring St parking lot has now become the new norm.” Lines were weekly events (safely spaced) at Bread Euphoria, Berkshire Mtn. Bakery, Apex Orchards, etc., each selling an entire truckload of their wares each Market Saturday. I could go on about each of the vendors individually but my understanding was across the board, not an incremental, but a significant uptick in sales for the vendors of the AFM.
  • With that said, and all of the unknowns COVID was to place on us and our season, some necessary “thank you’s” are in order at this time as we get close to wrapping up.
  • We only did an actual count a couple times, one on the July 4th weekend and one in September, the latter historically being one of the strongest months annually. July 4th (typically the slowest Market of the year) we had 1,098 people that we counted and on the September 12th weekend, we had 1,952. Note that the July 4th weekend sales were higher than vendors had never seen before around the holiday.
  • Regards to economic impact for the Town of Amherst, this is a bit hard to measure but in my estimate, Saturdays AT the Market became THE Town event as there was really nothing else able to be going on. Businesses were suffering, traffic in town was at a minimum yet on Saturday, parking lots were again filled up and while the Market obviously benefitted, my guess is that local business also saw a related spike in patrons on the Saturdays? While maybe a little hyperbolic, a couple customers remarked “we saved the town!” To some degree, I have to agree as we were the only game in town, in a way, and the Market provided some sense of ‘normalcy’ and comfort.
  • We were also fortunate to have some financial cushion thanks to the great grant we got from Blue Cross Blue Shield two years ago as our administrative costs skyrocketed for additional staffing and materials. We also secured a new partnership with People’s Bank in Amherst and received some financial support that helped defray some costs for 2020.
  • The Director of Senior Services obtained a grant that from Cooley Dickinson Hospital, which allowed $5k to be disbursed to local seniors and people in need through Mary Beth Ogulewicz and that put monies right into the vendors’ pockets while providing people with the freshest, local, accessible product available.
  • To the vendors and ALL staffing members of the AFM, this year has been a resounding, and frankly, somewhat surprising success due to COVID. This is all due to the willingness and elasticity that was necessary in, essentially, re-building/designing the AFM for the 2020 season. It has been a LOT of work, a lot of frustrations, a lot of learning the ‘new order’ to operate this enterprise safely, successfully and with accountability! We did it and I hope all can look back on a positive experience for what has been an unprecedented time in 2020.
  • To the Town of Amherst. To Paul Bockelman. To Rob Morra. To Susan Malone. To Angela Mills. To the Amherst Town Council members. To Alan Snow. To Brian Forbes. To Corry Deres. To Kevin Zhou. To Claudia of the Chamber and Gabrielle of the BID. To the Amherst DPW (please pass on)! To the Amherst PD (please pass

on)! An inordinate level of backing and community pulling together to help make the AFM not only happen, but thrive in very challenging times! No way could this have happened without all of you, all reaching for the same missive, and creating an environment for the AFM to support the local community in downtown Amherst.

  • Amazingly well coordinated, and where many other farmers’ markets, and businesses in general in the area, sadly, suffered, the AFM thrived! Response from the clientele has been amazing! Vendors reporting upwards of 30%+ rise in sales. Without the guidance and the, literal, physical support from the Town, this never would have happened!
  • As manager of this chaotic road-show, AKA the Amherst Farmers’ Market, it has been a pleasure to navigate this with you all and I feel pretty confident in that it was done safely, strongly, and with benefit to all involved. For the fraught times of 2020, it was some “necessary normalcy and regularity” for the Town of Amherst and all involved! Again, in what have been very challenging times… Here’s to going forth!

Major Capital Projects:

  • DPW/Fire: Town staff are working on a Request for Proposals for a location for the public works facility and working on a Request for Qualifications for a designer for the fire station on South Pleasant Street.
  • Schools: The Elementary School Building Committee is now meeting and elected Councilor Schoen as its chair and Councilor Schreiber as its vice-chair.
  • Library: The Finance Director, Library Director and I met with staff of the Board of Library Commissioners to review the requirements and schedule for the grant that will be awarded to the Town for renovations to the Jones Library.

Project Update:

  • Kendrick Park Playground: The work will be done in the spring as work must be completed by June 30, 2021.
  • Performing Arts Shell on the Town Common: No developments.
  • Parking Structure on Town Land at North Pleasant Street Parking Lot: No developments.
  • North Common Restoration/Main Street Parking Lot: Staff made a presentation to the Town Council at its November 16th meeting.
  • Hickory Ridge: This real estate transaction is very complicated. The investigation of the land is completed and remediation work has been done. The transaction includes the permitting of a solar array on land that will be held by the seller for the duration of the solar project. Permits need to be

issued by the utility and admittance into the State’s solar program is still under review. Town staff and the Town attorney continue to work this project aggressively.

  • East Street School: No developments
  • North Amherst Library: The architect has been working on this project. I am appointing an advisory committee for the project which will include the Superintendent of Public Works, Library Director, a library trustee, a local architect, and a former library trustee.
  • Solar on the Landfill: We are projecting construction to begin in November of 2021 and operation to begin in April of 2022.
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