Speak Up! Rank Amherst’s Building Projects

Photo: Howard Lake (Flckr.com). (CC BY-SA 2.0)

UPDATE.  The Rank Amherst’s Building Projects reader survey will close on Sunday, October 10 at midnight. The survey’s goal is to gain a fuller understanding of how citizens feel about this important aspect of the capital plan.  All submissions and comments are anonymous.  If you haven’t yet responded, please weigh in!

This week, the Indy launches a new feature, a reader survey entitled Speak Up!, in which we invite our readers to weigh in on key issues facing the town. Surveys will appear monthly and will remain open to responses for two weeks. A report on the responses and a collection of reader comments will be published a week after the close of the survey.

Amherst officials have proposed undertaking four major building projects over the next five years, at a total cost of roughly $151 million, approximately $53 million of which would be subsidized by state grants. The town’s share of expenses will exceed its borrowing capacity, and so a tax override, currently planned to be attached to the elementary school replacement project, will be needed in the next couple of years.

It would be informative to understand how Amherst residents feel about the relative priorities of the four building projects. Please indicate your opinion by completing the survey below. Survey results will be published in the Amherst Indy in mid-October.

Rank Amherst's Building Projects

  • New South Amherst Fire Station ($15M)
  • New Dept. of Public Works Facility ($20M)
  • Jones Library Renovation/Expansion ($36M)
  • New Elementary School ($80M)

Privacy Policy. We will not publish the identity of any survey respondents.

Understanding How the Building Projects May Affect Your Taxes

  • All four projects have been proposed to be financed through borrowing.
  • Capital cost estimates have been reported in the Amherst Indy, the Daily Hampshire Gazette and town government web pages.
  • Amherst's debt limit (5% of property valuation) is roughly $136M. Latest state figures show Amherst currently having outstanding debt of $14M. Borrowing beyond the debt limit will require the town to pass a type of tax override known as a debt exclusion override.
  • Amherst has been offered a state grant of $13.8M towards the library expansion if sufficient funds are available to cover the town's portion of the project.
  • The Massachusetts School Building Authority has invited Amherst to conduct a feasibility study for a potential construction grant which the town hopes will amount to half of the elementary school project cost.
  • Amherst Financial Director Sean Mangano has acknowledged that if a debt exclusion override for the elementary school replacement fails, then the whole building projects plan needs to be reconsidered.

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5 thoughts on “Speak Up! Rank Amherst’s Building Projects

  1. When funding capital projects whose assets are expected to be in service for many decades, prudence and equity demand spreading the cost over the expected service interval by responsibly borrowing – usually by issuing municipal bonds of 30, 40, 50 year, and sometimes even longer terms.

    If the roughly $100M in new bonds would exceed Amherst’s current borrowing capacity, then rather than inequitably burdening current residents with a tax override, instead the scale of the projects must be significantly reduced (starting with the Jones Library demolition/expansion (“renovation” is a cynical euphemism for what’s really proposed: demolition of all but the façade…).

  2. Public improvements are costly, and we expect a financial burden for necessities. Our priorities must reflect reality as well as our values. Health and Safety come first (safe sidewalks,sewers, water quality, garbage disposal, driveable roads, Emergency health services) to keep us well and alive. Next, Education, without which we cannot preserve Democracy or the human future. Niceties, like an expanded library that will also serve as a social center are very desirable, but are the last priority. Our library needs repair and perhaps a reorganization of its space priorities as well as expansion of on-line access. The proposed plan is beautiful, but not NECESSARY.

  3. Just wanted to announce last call on responding to “Speak Up! Rank Amherst’s Building Projects.” This reader survey will be closing at midnight on Sunday, October 10. Survey results will be posted in next week’s October 16 publication of the Amherst Indy.

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