Finance Committee Moves Forward With FY23 Budget Guidelines. Raises Concerns About Funding CRESS And DEI
A Few Take Aways From The Finance Committee Meeting Of December 7, 2021
The meeting was held via Zoom and was recorded. Recordings and minutes for the Finance Committee have not yet been posted. No Finance Committee minutes or videos have been posted on the town website after after July 6, 2021)
Town Councilors: Pat DeAngelis (District 2), Lynn Griesemer (District 2, council president), Dorothy Pam (District 3), Cathy Schoen (District 1) , Andrew Steinberg (at large). Non-voting members: Bob Hegner, Matt Holloway, Bernie Kubiak. Staff: Finance Director Sean Mangano
The Finance Committee met several times to prepare the FY23 Budget Guidelines that have now been presented to the Town Manager. These excerpts, from its December 7, 2021 meeting, concern a less-than-rosy gap between expenses and revenues, the likelihood of having to use reserves, and the importance nevertheless of funding of rhe Community Responders for Equity, Safety and Service (CRESS) agency and the Department of Equity and Inclusion (DEI).
After explaining various financial charts and figures, Finance Director Sean Mangano summarized the situation, saying, “[There’s a significant ] gap between the funding we have available and what our sort-of level services would be with these new departments [CRESS and DEI]. It starts to grow and continues…until FY27. So we do have issues, we do have challenges that we’re going to have to figure out….
“I don’t think any of us expected that we’d be able to add these departments and they would just all fit and fall into place without having to make any other adjustments. So the things we’ll have to explore as we go forward to make this all work [are] to increase revenues — we can look to fee increases, I know that’s been talked about several times [and] we have strategic agreements [Note: elsewhere, the need for payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) arrangements with UMass and the colleges has been mentioned] that need to be worked out in the coming year…and the other option is to readjust expenses to reduce them, shift them to close this gap… We will have moved CRESS up into the public safety section. The other concern I have is that there are a lot of other things that we, that the Town Council, the town manager, everybody wants to do. Sustainability improvements, housing initiatives, lots of other things. This leaves zero flexibility to do anything else. We have to make adjustments just to get to hit these number.”
When Dorothy Pam (District 3) pointed out the discrepancy between the approach to these expenses and the approach to the significant expenditures for the capital building projects, saying, “I think that statement is very important and I’m comparing it to the capital projects when you were convincing us that we could do them,” Mangano responded, “I think the difference is that we don’t have a plan yet. It’s our first analysis about moving forward with these two new departments and four additional firefighters. I guess with the four building projects we had a plan… We may need to use reserves for FY23, depending on how state aid comes in and if new growth comes in better than expected.”
Cathy Schoen, who has been more conservative than some about the town using its reserves, added, “I looked at the numbers — and all is not well. We have a really big hole.”
Stressing the importance of CRESS and DEI for the town, Pam commented, “Sean is showing us that there’s a challenging problem. There are things that are worrisome, and have to be watched carefully and closely, but I want to mention that these are exciting proposals, and Amherst is again leading the way. I’m sure the road will be bumpy and we’ll find out things are not exactly as predicted, but I think we should be proud that we’re attempting this, to have a more equitable way [for] people in the community. If it presents serious problems, we’ll have to deal with that and make some hard choices, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s exciting that we’re starting [CRESS and DEI], and trying to make it work.”
“We recognize that there is a deficit that continues to grow, that we don’t know if adjustments are going to have to made that are going to be either significant new revenue or making additional budget cuts,” said Finance Committee Chair Andrew Steinberg (at-large). “We need to just go forward and make the best effort we can to achieve those results because this is the right thing to do.”
“I’d like to begin whatever statement we send to TSO [Town Services and Outreach, a committee of the council] with very positive support for these two proposals and then recognize the challenge — I want to make sure that we send that first message.”
Jennifer Moyston, serving as the staff liason to the Community Safety Working Group, reminded the committee that “we have an opportunity here to be a leader in our local community or in the Pioneer Val] ley, and moving forward with this, and having a positive attitude, so I hope you either reach out to some of the [CSWG, Commuunity Safety Working Group] committee members or look at the reports to get some of that. Let’s remember that we have to prioritize the community at some point — right? — because the way the government is running and working is one that is — I don’t want to say ‘one-sided,’ but the rules and policies made have wide affects on the community but there’s no understanding of how it affects them. And it’s these small initiatives that, although they’re expensive initiatives, make all the difference. I really hope you understand that we have to prioritize at some point the BIPOC and other marginalized community members who reside here in Amherst.”
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