Letter: Town Must Re-envision Its Budget Priorities


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The following letter from Amherst Sunrise and Progressive Coalition of Amherst was sent to the Amherst Town Council and Town Manager Paul Bockelman on Friday, May 6, 2022.

We are writing this letter  to respectfully request that the Amherst Town Council make changes to the draft fiscal 2023 budget, in consideration of community spending priorities. 

On Sunday April 24, 2022, Sunrise Amherst and the Progressive Coalition of Amherst co-hosted a community forum on budget priorities. Forty residents attended, including firefighters, educators, elected officials, students, and community organizations. Participants offered their input on what the Town budget should include. Many shared accounts of woefully underfunded Town departments.  The conversation centered on Amherst government re-envisioning its priorities to create a safer, more equitable town. Residents called for ongoing community involvement in the budget process, believing strongly that the Town must revitalize the Participatory Budgeting Commission established by the Amherst Home Rule Charter.

The following were the most widely discussed community-generated priorities in the areas of racial equity, community safety, education, and infrastructure for FY23:

1.    Create a reparations fund for African Heritage residents, using  cannabis tax revenues 

2.    Implement the Community Safety Working Group’s program and policy recommendations (CRESS, DEI, youth center, BIPOC cultural center, resident oversight board, community visioning, and vouchers for basic needs) at the funding levels recommended in their reports 

3.  Provide funding for safe staffing and equipment for the Amherst Fire Department

4.  Fund translation services to foster inclusion of speakers of all languages in town services and government

5.   Provide adequate space to support the Senior Center

6.   Invest adequate money in Town buildings (and ongoing maintenance) that house programs as well as the programs themselves

7.  Prioritize affordable housing development

8.  Support small business owners who rent their spaces

9. Support Amherst Regional Public Schools with restoration of funds for arts and technology staff, and further development of ESL programs and services. As the district shifts its 6th graders to the middle school this fall, sufficient staffing for social and emotional needs is critical.  

Regarding increased revenue, many felt UMASS & Amherst College should increase their financial contributions to the town.

The resounding message from the forum was that Amherst needs a radical reorganization of budget priorities to focus on human needs.  Prioritization of funds needs to happen more equitably. Dr. Martin Luther King famously said “a budget is a moral document.”  Will the values of Amherst reflect a town welcoming of all people, a town providing for basic needs of its residents, a town offering enrichment activities to people of all ages?  Re-envisioning the town’s monetary priorities will make Amherst a more desirable place for a diversity of people to call home.

Amherst Sunrise Movement
Progressive Coalition of Amherst

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