Public Hearing On the FY2023 Budgets Sparks Public Support For Racial Equity Programs 


Photo: Creative Commons

Report On The Meeting of the Finance Committee and Town Council, May 16, 2022

This is the first of three articles on the Town Council meeting of May 16, 2022.

The Public Hearing on the FY23 budget took place for the 90 minutes prior to the regular Town Council meeting beginning at 5 p.m.. All members of the Finance Committee and all councilors, except for Mandi Jo Hanneke (at large), attended the Zoom meeting, which was recorded. Twenty-two members of the public were in the audience, and many commented on the budget.

At the May 2 council meeting, Hanneke requested that the public hearing on the budget required by the town charter be held at a Finance Committee meeting instead of at a regular council meeting as has been done in the past. Finance Committee Chair Andy Steinberg (at large) pointed out that the 9 a.m. meeting time of Finance Committee meetings  is not conducive to public participation, and that many valuable comments in support of the CRESS (Community Responders for Equity, Safety, and Service) program were offered at last year’s hearing. As a solution, the budget hearing was held at 5 p.m. prior to the 6:30 council meeting, and Hanneke was the only councilor who did not attend.

A brief presentation on the almost 300-page budget was given by Town Manager Paul Bockelman, Finance Director Sean Mangano, and Steinberg. Mangano pointed out that this hearing is the beginning of public outreach about the budget. There was an all day “Ask me anything” opportunity for residents to submit questions about the budget to Mangano on May 17, and a Cuppa Joe with Bockelman and Mangano is scheduled for May 20 at 10:30 via Zoom.    There will also be a public forum on the Capital Improvement Plan prior to the June 6 council meeting. Recordings of all budget meetings will be posted on the town website.

Steinberg noted that there can be limited input to the budget at this stage. The Town Manager submitted the budget at the beginning of May, and the council can only decrease allocations, not add to them. He said that budget planning begins in November with a public hearing which is when residents can give their priorities. After that time, the Finance Committee and staff meet with every department to gather the information needed to craft the budget, and the public has had an opportunity at each of those meetings to make comments. 

The brief budget presentation can be viewed here. Bockelman pointed out that the budget “takes meaningful steps toward meeting our shared goals of sustainability and racial equity.” The FY23 budget is 5.1% larger than the FY22, but each department was held to a 2.5% increase. An extra $300,000 was added to the town part of the budget to fund the CRESS program, and extra funding was put into reserves to provide for the planned capital projects. Mangano said that the library, fire station, and DPW projects could be funded by town borrowing, leaving the new school to require a debt exclusion override. He emphasized that Amherst is in excellent financial shape at this time.

Fifteen residents offered comments. School Committee member Peter Demling noted that the School Committee’s request for an additional $53,000 over the 2.5% increase guidelines was not incorporated into the budget, despite a unanimous vote on the school committee. He pointed out that the schools have obtained extra funding from grants, and realized savings from other programs that can be used. Even with federal COVID relief, it is still slightly short of the money needed to provide full-time art and technology teachers and the increased mental health services needed.

Several commenters requested that the CRESS program be fully funded at the $2.7 million per year recommended by the Community Safety Working Group (CSWG) and that the size and budget of the Amherst Police Department be decreased. These remarks were frequently combined with support for other programs recommended by the CSWG, such as a BIPOC youth empowerment center, adequate translation services, and a police oversight committee. Also frequently mentioned was the desire to create a funding stream for reparations for residents of African heritage through earmarking of cannabis tax revenues (see Indy link).

Allegra Clark supported fully funding the CSWG-recommended programs. Zoe Crabtree and Lydia Irons echoed this view, and Kaylee Brow pointed out that there was a tripling of mental health calls to the Amherst Police Department over the past year, and that most of these could have been handled by CRESS responders if it was operating, so police calls should decrease. She also noted that many residents expressed these views at the budget forum in November, but their suggestions were not incorporated into the budget.

Amherst College students Andrea Munoz Ledo and Adam Gibbs agreed with the above points, as did a contingent from Sunrise Amherst including Marisol Pierce Bonifaz and Julian Hynes. Hynes also spoke for an increase in EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) staffing in the Fire Department from 8 to 13 per shift. Vira Cage disapproved of spending $250,000 on police vehicles instead of on equipment and staffing for the Fire Department.

Lauren Mills disagreed that the APD budget should be cut, but advocated for more spending on youth programs. Jeff Lee said the town should take into account the growing wealth gap here, and urged the council and town officials to listen to the voices of poorer residents, who are rarely heard at public meetings, but would be most impacted by a tax override.

Demetria Shabazz advocated for the use of cannabis tax revenue to fund reparations, which the African American Heritage Assembly had requested in November but had not received a response. Cannabis tax revenue has been incorporated into the general operating budget for FY23, precluding the ability to build the reparations fund, despite the town’s commitment to combating structural racism. She and Dorothy Pam also strongly spoke for a BIPOC youth center. Pam emphasized that this should be different from the teen space in the planned Jones Library expansion and needs its own space. She also asked whether the town should have an outside group study the needs of the police and fire departments.

Darcy DuMont spoke about the urgent need to accelerate efforts to meet the town’s climate action goals. The budget has increased the amount for sustainability from $100,000 to $200,000.

The budget hearing ended at 6:15 p.m.

Spread the love

2 thoughts on “Public Hearing On the FY2023 Budgets Sparks Public Support For Racial Equity Programs 

Leave a Reply

The Amherst Indy welcomes your comment on this article. Comments must be signed with your real, full name & contact information; and must be factual and civil. See the Indy comment policy for more information.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.