Town Prepares To Press Forward On Foundering Library Project

Photo: https://www.joneslibrary.org/

Jones Library News Highlights For The Week Of September 13, 2022

Trustees Offer To Collaborate on Further Design Costs
Despite an unfunded budget gap estimated at $14 million, Amherst leaders are poised to spend another 15 months and $1.8 million bringing the financially challenged Library renovation/expansion project through its bid phase.  Their rationale is that inflation could turn around over the next year, several million dollars in government aid and donation requests by the Library Capital Campaign could come through, and the affordability of the project will be better known once construction bids are received.

Architect and project management fees needed to bring the project through the Design Development and Construction Document Preparation phases are projected to be $1.8 million.  These next phases of the project are now scheduled to begin in October 2022 and continue through the end of September 2023, with the soliciting and collection of bids continuing through December 2023.

Jones Library Building Project schedule as of 9-13-2022

In an effort to dissuade the Finance Committee and Town Council from pulling the plug on the project, the Jones Library Board of Trustees voted at their Sept. 13 meeting to propose a change to the financial Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Trustees and the Town.  The key provision was a commitment by the trustees to either reimburse the Town or invest in Library repairs should the building project be halted after bids are received.  Specifically, their motion specified

In the event a decision is made not to proceed with the project when the construction bidding process is completed, the Trustees will reimburse the town for the cost incurred in design development and preparing construction documents up to a specified amount or pledge to invest the equivalent of that amount at least for HVAC, roof repairs, and/or other necessary capital improvements at the Jones Library or identify some other means to ensure that the costs to the town are otherwise covered.

This proposal was communicated to the Town Council with a letter from members of the Board of Trustees asking that the project be moved forward.  The letter neglected to point out that Trustee Treasurer Robert Pam opposed sending it, citing risk to the Library’s finances.

…the Trustees voted to rescind their previous decision to pledge the value of the library endowment to backstop the overall cost of the project.

With this commitment in place, the Trustees voted to rescind their previous decision to pledge the value of the library endowment to backstop the overall cost of the project.

After some discussion and wording changes, the Finance Committee voted 5-0 at their Sept. 13 meeting to ask Town Manager Paul Bockelman to incorporate the Trustee’s pledge to help cover ongoing design costs into the Library-Town MOA.

Finance Director Sean Mangano explained that he now envisions two decision points on whether to continue or cancel the project.  The first would be at next Monday’s Town Council meeting when a vote on the amended MOA is expected.  The second decision point will be in late 2023 after construction bids are received and funding requirements are solidified.

Councilor and Finance Committee member Elisha Walker protested the lack of information that the decision makers have regarding how the rising costs of the Library project will affect the other three town building projects: new elementary school, fire station and DPW. 

Councilor and Finance Committee member Elisha Walker protested the lack of information that the decision makers have regarding how the rising costs of the Library project will affect the other three town building projects: new elementary school, fire station and DPW.  She asked if the Town “will be presenting to us the updated four project model before our decision has to be made?”

“No, I don’t think we’ll have the information in time,” responded Mangano.

Reauthorization of the amended Memorandum Of Agreement between the Town and Library Trustees is an action item on the agenda of the Monday, September 19 Town Council meeting.  The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. and may be attended via Zoom.

MBLC Sends Blunt Explanation of Delay In 2nd Grant Installment
The Library Trustees were recently dismayed to learn that the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) is planning to delay delivery of the second of five installments of its $13.6 million grant award.  Originally scheduled to be sent at the end of the building project’s design phase in summer of 2023, the MBLC now plans to postpone delivery of the installment until after the bid phase is completed, in December 2023.

This news was not well received by the Trustees. Trustee Alex Lefebvre commented at the September 8 meeting of the Jones Library Building Committee, “So the MBLC regulations state when we get to the end of a design phase and one fiscal year after the first payment that we’re supposed to get the second payment and they’re now saying that instead of following those regulations they’re going to wait until the end of bid phase to give us that payment?” 

Library Director Sharon Sharry followed up by inquiring of the MBLC why they were no longer committing to their original payment schedule.

MBLC Director James Lonergan sent back a blunt reply.  He pointed out that the MBLC has been flexible and has accommodated requests for changes to the original Jones Library project plan on several occasions, such as allowing delays due to the pandemic and the uncertain outcome of a voter referendum.

Lonergan concluded,

Decisions regarding the delay of a milestone payment are not made lightly. Our building specialists, management team, and the Commissioners on our construction committee have discussed the situation presented by Amherst. The MPLCP will not be issuing a second payment to the Town of Amherst until the Town signs a contract with a general contractor and secures a building permit. We have been as flexible as possible with your project to assist the Town in its fiduciary responsibility to its taxpayers. The same flexibility is warranted for the fiduciary responsibility our agency has to the Commonwealth’s taxpayers.

Obscure Ch. 62F State Law May Limit Availability Of Funds For Libraries And Other Earmarks
A relatively unknown Massachusetts tax cap law known as Chapter 62F appears to mandate that the state return nearly $3 billion in surplus revenues to taxpayers.  Governor Charlie Baker’s administration is set to mail out tax credit checks in November, reports Masslive.com.

The tax cap law which was enacted in 1986 has been triggered only once, in 1987.  However, Baker caused a legislative kerfuffle when he announced that the anticipated FY22 surplus would be large enough to once again trigger 62F. The news derailed work on a $4 billion Economic Development bill that failed to be passed before the state legislature’s formal session ended on August 1.

Commonwealth Magazine has reported that on September 15 State Auditor Suzanne Bump certified that Massachusetts tax revenues exceeded the cap by $2.94 billion.  While the exact mechanism for returning funds to taxpayers has not yet been worked out, the now official amount of the surplus will have a dramatic effect on the funds available to legislators to include as earmarks in an Economic Development bill.

This change in the state’s financial picture comes at a time when the Jones Library is working to team up with 13 other Massachusetts libraries that have been awarded MBLC grants but are now grossly over budget.  Library Director Sharry and Town Council President Lynn Griesemer have met with local State Rep. Mindy Domb and State Sen. Jo Comerford to request that they lobby the state legislature to come to the aid of the financially strapped library projects. The legislature will convene again in formal session in January.

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3 thoughts on “Town Prepares To Press Forward On Foundering Library Project

  1. Do costs usually come down with inflation – even if inflation should decrease somewhat? What is another $1.8 million, of taxpayer money spent to mull over its prospects when so much of our tax money has already been spent on something so unneeded? I am glad, though, that the trustees have backed away from pledging the endowment that is already eaten into every year for ordinary costs. Right now we have a library that can’t support itself on ordinary income and yet we “need” a much grander library?

  2. The MBLC seems to be a fairly inflexible and archaic vein of the state bureaucracy. These are allocated funds from taxpayer dollars. Every bit of your working paycheck goes to the MBLC , the state Universities and more. It seems only right and fair that a town or city should double-check what they are signing up for. How are your tax dollars being used? Could this go to health care instead? Do you know that Mass Health can whip back the money it gave out for over 55 year old subscribers. If you are sick or someone you know is sick, Mass Health pay out for treatments can come back and take your home. This is a reality for some people. Do you know about it?
    No, there is only Library for this small town. Some of our money deducted from every single paycheck goes to the MBLC for these egregious, white elephants when life, home, heat, food are left in limbo. Disgusting!

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