Town Manager Report For December 6, 2021

Photo:amherstma.gov

Source: amherstma.gov

Editor’s note: Town Manager Paul Bockelman submits a comprehensive report to the Town Council at each of its regular meetings. The reports, usually 9 to 12 pages in length, 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 a complete, unedited version of the Town Manager’s Report.

All Town Manager Reports are available on the Town’s website here.

COVID-19

  • Statewide, less than half of those who are age 65 and older who have completed their initial series and are eligible for a booster have received one.
    • Vaccine appointments
  • can be found on the State’s website: https://vaxfinder.mass.gov/.
  • The Town continues its vaccine clinics every Thursday from 3:00 – 6:00 in the Bangs Community Center. Clinics will be held on December 9, 16, and 23. Information on vaccines in Amherst can be found here: https://www.amherstcovid19.org/vaccine
  • It is important to reiterate:
    • People aged 12 and older who live, work, or study in Massachusetts can now get vaccinated.
    • If you are uninsured, you can still receive a vaccine.

§  The vaccine is free – there is no cost to you.

  • Vaccine sites may request documentation, but you are not required to have it to receive the vaccine and you cannot be denied access to the vaccine for not having ID.

§  Documentation is not required to be vaccinated.

  • Sites will NOT ask for proof of immigration status. Any data collected for the COVID-19 vaccination program may only be used for public health purposes – not for civil, criminal, nor immigration enforcement.
    • Health Department staff continue to offer special vaccine clinics for specific populations. In recent two weeks, the Public Health Director held special clinics at:
      • Crocker Farm Elementary School for staff and students;
      • Wildwood Elementary School for staff and students;
      • Fort River Elementary School for staff and students;
      • Craig’s Doors for staff and guests;
      • Survival Center for staff and guests;
      • Senior housing locations; and
      • Bangs Center for first responders and other municipal staff.
  • Testing:
  • The Town’s Health Department continues to offer asymptomatic, unobserved community testing for Covid-19. These PCR testing kits are free. This service is in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
  • The University of Massachusetts continues to provide testing for members of the community utilizing the self-test drop-off system. More information may be found here: https://www.umass.edu/coronavirus/coronavirus/covid-19-testing
  • Case Counts:
    • Case counts continue to increase. The Health Director projects continued increases during the holiday season. Family gatherings and large social events are the most likely places to see the spread of the virus.
    • This is happening even with a large percentage of the Town’s population – estimated at 93% – being vaccinated. This percentage is calculated weekly with the assumptions and calculations posted here: https://amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/Index/4401
  • Mask Mandate:
    • The Health Director anticipates continuing the current mask mandate at least through the end of January to assess the status of cases once students begin returning from their winter breaks.
    • Complaints about indoor mask non-compliance should be forwarded to the Health Department for follow up.

University/College Relations

  • University of Massachusetts:
    • The University has issued a directive that states that, in accordance with the existing requirement that students be fully immunized against COVID-19, all students will be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot. In addition, there is an expectation that all students will be tested two weeks prior to the start of spring classes.
    • The University believes the advance testing program will help provide the university an assessment of COVID-19 infections as the semester begins, and it allows any student who tests positive to meet the isolation requirements before classes start and therefore not miss any in-person instruction time.
    • The University also announced that it would continue the current campus indoor face covering requirement to start the spring semester. The face covering requirement will be reviewed during the semester.
    • Discussions with the University for a successor Strategic Partnership Agreement continue to develop.
    • Amherst College:
      • We would like to thank Amherst College which has provided secure space in its ultra-cold deep freezer so the Health Director can store the Town’s vital COVID-19 vaccines for an extended period of time in case supplies diminish.
      • Active discussions for a Strategic Partnership Agreement with the President and staff continue with some positive news anticipated in the near future.
    • Hampshire College:
      • The power switch was flipped on in Farmington, Maine for a new solar project that will bring electricity to Hampshire College, Amherst College, and three other New England schools who formed the New England College Renewable Partnership. Working with NextEra Energy Resources, the schools built the array in Farmington. The project is said to be the largest solar project in New England. The solar facility will create enough power for about 17,000 homes.
      • Hampshire College has advertised for sale a 7.69 acre land site for development located directly across from Hampshire College, next to Atkins Farm Market and Applewood. The two parcels wrap around (to the West and Southwest) 1151 West Street and Atkin’s Farm Market.
      • Active discussions with the College about its needs and the Town’s needs continue.

Racial Equity

  • Reparations:
    • I was invited to participate by the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project at Northeastern University to participate in its day-long Racial Redress and Reparations

Conference on December 1st. The African Heritage Reparation Assembly co-chair Michele Miller and staff member Jennifer Moyston were able to join for much of the conference. The Racial Redress and Reparations Lab works with communities and policy makers who seek to effectively engage with reparative projects. Racial Redress and Reparations: (crrj.org)

  • The African Heritage Reparation Assembly continues its weekly meeting schedule and presented its initial report to the Town Council on November 8th along with financial requests. One member of the Assembly, one of the co-chairs, submitted her resignation and we are recruiting for a new member.
    • Community Responders Program:
      • The Implementation Team is meeting weekly to work on the numerous details of developing and implementing the new community responder (CRESS) program.
      • The Community Responder program director job description has been completed and is expected to be advertised in the coming days.
      • A reorganization plan has been submitted to the Town Council and the plan will be reviewed by the TSO Committee after a public forum on December 9th.
    • Other Initiatives:
      • A reorganization plan for the Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Department has been submitted to the Town Council and the plan will be reviewed by the TSO Committee after a public forum on December 9th.

Outreach

  • Cuppa Joe: The Communications Manager hosted the latest Cuppa Joe with Paul virtual coffee on November 19th with Finance Director Sean Mangano as the guest. This session was timed to complement the presentation of the Financial Indicators Report.
    • Community Engagement: The Town continues its collaboration with a team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on understanding local civic engagement in the digital age and building channels for more inclusive engagement. The engagement includes two phases:
      • Before and after the December 2nd TSO Committee public hearing on parking on North Pleasant Street, community members were able to go to Amherst Talks, an asynchronous engagement platform to share their thoughts on Kendrick Park and interact with town staff. If residents don’t want to participate, but would still like to follow along, they can visit the site and view the discussion without registering. The Amherst Talks site can be accessed at this link: amherst.publicinfrastructure.org This opportunity will be available until December 9th.
  • During the December 2nd Town Services & Outreach Committee public hearing, a novel real-time feedback system called Community Click was used, allowing residents to anonymously provide their thoughts and reactions as the meeting happens. A link and QR code were displayed on the meeting screen during this portion of the public hearing and will appear on the meeting posting and packet materials as well. Feedback provided by the public during the meeting is anonymous and optional and will not be visible to the public or Council during the meeting.
    • Translation Services: The Town is expected to receive a grant of $80,000 for “Translation, Civic Engagement, and Participation” efforts by the Town. These are funds that were secured by our State Representative and State Senator in the State budget. The purpose of the funds is to “support translation services, promote engagement and inclusion, and facilitate participation in civic activities for BIPOC and ESL communities.”
    • Monte’s March: Town staff and representatives from the local Tibetan community provided a warm welcome to the marchers prior to Thanksgiving.

Afghan Evacuees: The Town has supported theInstitute for Training and Development (ITD) as it opened the doors of the ITD House to five newly arrived Afghan families on November 1st. ITD is providing their guests with a safe environment for the next five months. The large historic mansion will allow them to develop community, and strengthen their network with each other and local residents while they acclimate to new surroundings and prepare for their lives in the United States. Aligned with ITD’s mission, their presence will enrich our community by “sharing cultures, exchanging ideas, deepen our understanding and spreading knowledge.”

Legal Update

  • Jones Library: The Town Attorney presented the Town’s arguments in the Allen et al vs. Amherst Board of Registrars in Superior Court on November 30th. There was no indication from the Judge as to what his decision would be nor when he would issue it.
    • Opioid Settlement: The Town will participate in the settlement negotiated by attorneys as recommended by the Town Attorney. As background, a provisional settlement has been reached with the three largest opioid distributors (AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson) and Janssen/Johnson & Johnson. The terms of this settlement dictate that payment will be made

over a period of 9-18 years if there is sufficient participation of municipalities

nationwide. Although they cannot state with specificity the exact amount the Town may receive, the criteria for payment include population; the number of opioid-related deaths; and other factors that take into account the financial impact the opioid crisis has had upon a community.

In the Wings

  • Parking Recommendations: Changes to the parking system in the downtown area are prepared and, in consultation with the Council President, will be scheduled to be presented to the Town Council after the first of the year.
    • Water Regulations: Updated and revised water regulations are prepared and, in consultation with the Council President, will be scheduled to be presented to the Town Council after the first of the year.
    • Sewer Regulations: Updated and revised sewer regulations are being prepared and, in consultation with the Council President, will be scheduled to be presented to the Town Council after the first of the year.

Department Updates

  • Finance:
    • ARPA: The Finance Director held four public engagement sessions and we presented a plan for the distribution of funds to the Town Council on November 15th. One key goal is to continue to review the plan so that Town allocated funds are not duplicating areas that the State is allocating funds. We are now moving to implement the spending plan.
    • Public Works:
      • Downtown:
        • Temporary barriers for outdoor dining have been removed.
        • The Department has worked with the Business Improvement District to provide additional decorative lighting and decorations for the holiday seasons.
      • Shays Street: The Public Works Department installed new Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons (RRFB) at the crosswalk on Shays Street near the Crocker Farm Elementary School entrance.
      • Northampton Road:
        • The State Department of Transportation intends to begin the reconstruction of Northampton Road from South Pleasant Street to University Drive. The work is projected to continue through April 2024.
        • The Mass DOT roadway reconstruction project was awarded to Caracas Construction Corp.
        • This will be an extensive construction project that includes replacement of Town utilities, relocation of poles, installation of a multi-use path, and other work. Initial work this fall will involve construction signs and erosion controls and tree work.
        • Northern Tree Service will begin removing trees along Northampton Road starting on December 6th.
  • Survey Work: The Town has completed the procurement process for survey services. With the firms now under contract, we will be moving forward with survey work for several projects including the East Pleasant Street sidewalk project.
    • Economic Development:
      • Wi-Fi Downtown: The Town has been awarded a FY22 Community Compact Cabinet IT grant in the amount of $74,625 to undertake the construction of a downtown public Wi-Fi network. This will supplement and, in some cases, supplant the existing Wi-Fi network. The competition for funding was especially intense, and Amherst’s application was chosen due to “its ability to fulfill the core mission of the grant program, which is to drive innovation and transformation at the local level via investments in technology.” Congratulations to our I.T. Department for preparing such a compelling grant application.
      • Free Parking: Again, there will be free parking every Saturday from Thanksgiving to Christmas in the downtown area.
      • Holiday Celebrations: The annual lighting of the Merry Maple took place on December 3rd on the Town Common. This event, which featured the University of Massachusetts marching band, was organized by the Recreation Department along with the Business Improvement District (BID) and Chamber of Commerce. A large crowd was present.
      • Performance Shell: The BID has moved the request for a new performance shell on the Town Common through the permitting process. The Town Council is scheduled to vote on this request at its next meeting. If approved, the BID will move forward with fund raising and developing more detail schematic design plans for Town staff to review. The BID anticipates the performance shell would become a reality in 2023 or 2024.
      • Drake Performance Venue: The BID and Downtown Amherst Foundation continue work on the Drake performance venue. The goal is to have that location ready for programming in the first or second quarter of 2022.
      • Boy Scout Tree Sale: Boy Scout Troops 500B, 500G, and 504 will again host a tree sale from November 18 – January 8 at the southern-most end of Kendrick Park. (Note, the start date is ten days earlier than previously reported.)
    • Public Safety:
      • Police: Police continue to be busy with noise complaints, especially from large parties that require intervention.
      • Fire:
        • Ambulance: The new ambulance which was ordered months ago is expected to be placed in service shortly.
        • Fire Pumper: The Town appropriated funds for a new Fire Truck. The specifications for the truck are being reviewed and it is likely the costs of the truck may exceed the appropriation, requiring staff to seek additional funds from the Town Council.
        • Cardiac Monitors: The five cardiac monitors that were approved by the Council have been purchased.
    • Town Clerk:
      • Reprecincting: The reprecincting maps prepared by the Town and submitted to the State have been approved by the State.
  • Elections:
    • Count: Town Clerk staff finalized the election counting under two dozen votes.
    • Recount: The district 4 councilor race was recounted on November 23rd in the Large Activity Room at the Bangs Community Center.


    • Human Resources: The H.R.Department has been busy recruiting for the numerous openings in the Town including the two recent department head positions. In addition, the department has been active in ongoing collective bargaining, preparing for collective bargaining for FY23 and beyond, and the requirement to conduct impact bargaining with several bargaining units as we work through the details of establishing the CRES program.
  • Conservation and Development:
    • Inspection Services:
      • The Town successfully went live with a new online permitting and licensing portal earlier this month. The Town has started inviting customers and businesses to apply for permits and licenses online via this new portal, which is powered by OpenGov.
      • With this new portal, the Town now offers dozens of additional permits and licenses online, making it easier for residents and businesses to apply for and receive permits online. This includes building, electrical, gas and plumbing permits; rental registration; health licenses; parking permits, fire department permits; planning, conservation and many more. The Town will continue to add additional applications through the new portal in the coming weeks and months.
    • Planning:
      • Flood Maps:
        • The Town is updating its Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) and Flood Insurance Study (FIS). Maps have been available for review since July 2020 and are now in a 90-day statutory appeal period, which ended on December 9th.
        • FEMA now has a 60-day period to conduct quality review of the maps.
        • In February, Town staff will present an updated overview of the project to the Town Council.
  • After FEMA’s review, there will be a six-month compliance period during which the maps, zoning bylaw text, and Flood Insurance Study Report will be presented to the Town Council for adoption.
    • The Town expects the flood-mapping project to be concluded by the summer of 2022.
    • The Public Art Commission, working with the Cultural Council, has restored the metal sculpture created by Michael J. Virzi’s titled “A Poetic Dialogue” and includes silhouettes of Emily Dickinson and fellow Amherst Poet Robert Frost.

The sculpture is located adjacent to the Emily Dickinson homestead property on Main Street at Churchill Street.

  • Sheltering:
    • Craig’s Doors has opened its new Congregate site at the Lutheran Church up to a maximum number is 23 guests.
    • University Motor Lodge is at capacity with 28-31 guests. The Town and Amherst are working to identify a warming space.
    • The Town is committing $1 million for permanent shelter/supportive housing and

$1 million for affordable housing.

  • The Town is building a new rest room for Craigs Doors in the shelter they own and operate on the lot at the First Baptist Church.
    • State-wide, the State Legislature is in the process of allocating half of its $5 billion in ARPA funds (with additional surplus revenues bringing the total allocated in this round to roughly $3.8 billion). Both the House and Senate budgets include roughly $600 million to support housing initiatives, including $150 million for permanent supportive housing and $150 million for more affordable rental housing. The Senate budget included two earmarks for our region, one by Senator Comerford that will bring a total of $800,000 in housing and shelter funds to Franklin and Hampshire Counties.
  • The letter represents a unified commitment among Massachusetts’ municipalities and urges the Department of Energy Resources to develop a building code for new residential and commercial buildings, with the most energy efficient building envelopes and incentives for electrification.
    • Bike Share:
      • Installation of new stations on West Street and South East Street are in progress. Signage and rails are scheduled to go in, but docks will not be put in place until the power connection is confirmed.
      • The bike share will remain open throughout the 2021-2022 winter months.
    • CAARP: The Town is seeking funding to develop and implement an innovative rental efficiency policy, one of the five priority initiatives in the Town’s Climate Action Adaptation and Resiliency Plan.
    • Community Services:
      • Senior Center: Town staff, led by the staff at the Senior Center, prepared gift bags for all veterans in the Town and organized students from the University to deliver them to veterans throughout the Town. Kudos to our staff for organizing this small gesture of thanks for those who have served. And thanks to the students and the Police Department and comfort dog. See photo below.


  • Veterans Services: Town staff supported the recognition of our veterans on November with a ceremony on the Town Common.
    • Health: In addition to the extensive work mentioned above regarding COVID-19, the Town is working with the City of Northampton as a participant in a Public Health Excellence grant in which the Town will benefit with additional nursing services. The nurses can support the Health Department with MAVEN cases other than COVID, other initiatives, plus clinics. This work is looking forward to a more collaborative public health presence for Hampshire County over the next few years.
  • Recreation:
    • The Recreation Department helped organize the annual Merry Maple celebration on the Town Common.
    • The Department has a new sports director who has begun his duties.

Delegated Authority:

  • Short-Term Event Uses of Town Commons:
    • Short-Term Parking Requests:
      • Free Parking Downtown – November 27, December 4, 11, and 18 – requested by the Amherst Business Improvement District
    • Short-Term Road or Sidewalk Closures:
      • Merry Maple – December 3 – requested by the Amherst Business Improvement District

Major Capital Projects:

  • Jones Library:
    • The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners has issued the first payment under the grant awarded to the Town in the amount of $2,774,263.
    • Town and Library staff are establishing a timeline and setting a funding schedule.
    • I continue to seek members to serve on the Jones Library Building Committee and anticipate the Committee will begin meeting in December.
    • DPW Building/Fire Building: Staff are exploring multiple options for a new site for the Department of Public Works.
    • Schools:
      • DiNisco Design was selected by the Massachusetts School Building Authority Designer Selection Committee to be the Designer for the Amherst Elementary School. DiNisco Design joins the Owner’s Project Manager, Anser Advisory Management LLC, on the consultant team for the Town’s elementary school building project.
      • The Elementary School Building project website will be opened in the coming days. This website will be a single, simple location that will hold all information on the project, the Elementary School Building Committee’s work, and all public engagement efforts.
      • The Amherst School Committee and the Elementary School Building Committee will hold a joint meeting on December 14th at which DiNisco will be present and discuss its work on the project.
      • The first cut of the timeline reveals that the earliest the Town Council would be able to place a Proposition 2 ½ debt exclusion override question on the ballot is in the spring of 2023.

Projects Update:

  • Dog Park: The work on the dog park has concluded for the season. Increased costs were identified and a request for additional funds was approved by the Town Council.
    • North Common Restoration/Main Street Parking Lot: Staff are developing the plans. We will be convening regular public meetings of stakeholders to ensure all opinions and views are heard. I anticipate the first stakeholder meeting will be in January.
  • Hickory Ridge: The parking lot has been reconfigured to accommodate use during the winter.
    • North Amherst Library:
      • The Massachusetts Architectural Access Board voted unanimously to approve a variance the Town requested to maintain the existing front entry/egress at the library.
      • With this decision, and with the completion of construction plans, we will now be releasing the bid documents. We anticipate an approximately eight week bidding period with sub-bids, etc.
    • Pomeroy Village MassWorks Grant: Town staff presented the 25% plans to the Town Council at its meeting on November 29th.
    • Solar on the Landfill:
      • Construction work on the North Landfill has begun, along with the fence around the South Landfill. The work will be able to continue through most of the winter. See photo below.
  • Belchertown Road/East Street School:
    • Town issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to lease the properties located at 31 South East Street and 72-80 Belchertown Road for the development of affordable housing.
    • Two proposals were received November 19th. A committee are reviewing the proposals to ensure they are compliant with the RFP and will submit a recommendation to me for the award.

Upcoming Meetings and Events:

  • December 13th – Town Council meeting
  • December 20th – Town Council meeting
  • December 23-24 – Christmas Eve/Christmas holidays celebrated
  • December 31 – New Year’s holiday celebrated
  • January 3rd – Town Council swearing-in and meeting

Help Move the Town Toward a Better Future Members Sought to Serve on Key Committees

The Town is seeking members of the community to serve on several key committees. We are especially seeking a diverse pool of candidates to serve to ensure all voices are at the table.

Jones Library Building Committee

Join the Committee that will bring the vision for the new Jones Library to reality. The Jones Library Building Committee (JLBC) will oversee the design and construction of the Jones Library Restoration and Expansion.

The JLBC will guide the Jones Library Restoration and Expansion project. All major decisions will be brought to the JLBC for review, approval, and formal submission to the Library Board of Trustees and Town Manager for final approval, as required.

Throughout the life of the project, the JLBC will work as a team with several consultants, including an Owner’s Project Manager (OPM), an Architect, and Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioner (MBLC) Building Specialists. The JLBC will develop a timeline, milestones, and plans for the project and recommend a specific set of plans to the Library Board of Trustees and Town Manager for approval.

The JLBC will work with the Library Director and Town Manager to ensure the public is kept informed and engaged with the Jones Library Restoration and Expansion project. More information on the Jones Library and this Building Project can be found here: https://www.joneslibrary.org/352/Jones- Building-Project

Community Safety and Social Justice Committee

The Town has formed a new Community Safety and Social Justice Committee. The Committee will work to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and community safety in Amherst. The Committee will have seven voting members. Two of the initial appointments shall have been members of the Community Safety Working Group. No fewer than five of the seven voting members shall represent Black, Indigenous, People of Color, or other historically marginalized communities. Appointments shall strive to represent a broad range of the Town’s socio-economic diversity. To that end, financial stipends (to be determined) will be provided to support the work of Committee members.

The Committee will incorporate and continue the work of the Community Safety Working Group.

Included in its charge will be support for the work of the soon-to-be-formed Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion department; support of the Community Responders for Equity, Safety, and Service program; and working to address the needs of BIPOC and other marginalized groups including the disabled, immigrants, and LGBTQIA.

Members will be provided a stipend for their service on this committee.

African Heritage Reparation Assembly

The Amherst Town Council has established the African Heritage Reparations Assembly (AHRA), a seven-member committee with a mission to study and develop reparation proposals for People of African Heritage in Amherst.

The Town Manager, as appointing authority, is seeking one member to fill a vacancy on the AHRA. The seven-member committee will include six Black residents, at least two of whom are current or former members of elected bodies in Amherst. One member shall be a representative from Reparations For Amherst.

The AHRA will be charged with developing a Municipal Reparations Plan that includes both a reparations fund and a community-wide process of reconciliation and repair for harms against Black people. The plan will include:

  • A plan for developing ongoing funding streams to repair past harms committed by the Town against Black people.
    • An allocation plan including eligibility criteria, which will be determined and approved by the broader Amherst Black community through a census and community feedback process.
    • Additional means of repair for anti-Black structural and communal racism, including public events and activities that prioritize truth telling and reconciliation.

The AHRA will also coordinate with other groups working toward racial equity in Amherst to ensure collaboration.

Human Rights Commission

The Human Rights Commission promotes the Town’s Human Rights Policy to insure that no person, public or private, shall be denied any rights guaranteed pursuant to local, state, and/or federal law on the basis of race or color, gender, physical or mental ability, religion, socio-economic status, ethnic or national origin, affectional or sexual preference, lifestyle, or age for all persons coming within the Town of Amherst.

If you are interested in volunteering to serve, please fill out a Community Activity Form at: https://www.amherstma.gov/caf . If you have questions, reach out to our Community Participation Officers at Get Involved@AmherstMA.gov.

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