Council Begins To Discuss Budget Guidelines. Concerns Raised About Meeting Town’s Climate Goals


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Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Town Council,  December 5, 2022.  Part 2

This meeting was held in a hybrid manner and was recorded. It can be viewed here (beginning at 1:10) and here.  

Councilors in the Town Room: President Lynn Griesemer (District 2), Mandi Jo Hanneke and Andy Steinberg (at large), Cathy Schoen and Michele Miller (District 1), Pat DeAngelis (District 2), Jennifer Taub (District 3), Anika Lopes (District 4) , Ana Devlin Gauthier and Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5)

Participating on Zoom: Ellisha Walker (at large), Dorothy Pam (District 3), and Pam Rooney (District 4)

Staff: Paul Bockelman (Town Manager) and Athena O’Keeffe (Clerk of the Council)

There were about 25 members of the public present in the Town Room, including many young people, and 35 on Zoom. Several members of the Regional School Committee and Finance Department were also in attendance.

Public Commenters Emphasize Climate Goals In Budget Talks
While most of the public comment concerned the renovation of the high school track and one athletic field, several people were upset with the de-emphasis of specific climate actions in the draft document regarding budget guidelines for FY 2024, which states: “Making progress on multiple fronts that require investments, including climate action, housing, and social justice, will require a multi-year and multi-revenue strategy and will not be achieved in a single year. The Town will likely need to forgo[sic]taking on some new efforts, unless revenue neutral, until we have the funds needed for the major building projects, required work on roads and sidewalks, determine the long-term public safety plan, and have the staff needed for the three public safety departments.”

Energy and Climate Action Committee Chair Vasu Raghavan recommended that the guidelines incorporate persistent actions and concrete goals to meet the climate action goals adopted by the town. Darcy DuMont agreed that the town needs to set specific goals to achieve its climate action goals. She encouraged the town to adopt waste hauler reform and curbside composting and urged that these be specified in the Town Manager goals being developed by the Governance, Organization, and Legislation (GOL) Committee of the Council.

Several members of Sunrise Amherst also spoke to the need to incorporate specific climate action, affordable housing and racial equity into the Town Manager goals. Zeke Douglas Rosenthal said that the town must make mindful choices to achieve the 2025 mandated reduction in emissions. Julian Hynes objected to the budget guidelines putting a pause on new initiatives in order to fund the major capital projects. He advocated for more planting of trees, solar canopies on the high school and middle school parking lots, affordable housing, and a BIPOC youth center. Marisol Pierce Bonifaz and Amrita Rutter also opposed the deprioritizing of climate action, affordable housing, and racial equity in the proposed Town Manager goals and budget guidelines.

Feedback From Councilors On Draft Budget Guidelines
Jennifer Taub (District 3) echoed the concerns of Sunrise Amherst that climate, housing, and racial justice goals were being de-emphasized in the budget guidelines document. Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5) said that the climate goals need specificity and need investment, notably to improve bicycle and pedestrian access. She added that viewing actions “through a climate lens” as recommended in the draft goals is too nonspecific. Michele Miller (District 1) noted that the council was already committed to climate action, affordable housing, and racial justice, so these are not new initiatives.

Finance Committee chair Andy Steinberg (at large) explained that with the tight budget, the town will need to make hard choices, but the phrase targeting those three areas was removed from the budget guidelines draft at the Finance Committee meeting on December 6.

Mandi Jo Hanneke (at large) questioned whether the statements about changing the formula for reparations because of falling cannabis tax revenue and the need to revise the policy about disposal of abandoned town owned property should be referred for new policy development, not merely stated in the budget guidelines. Ellisha Walker (at large) suggested that a statement supporting continued maintenance of athletic fields be included in the guidelines.

Budget guidelines will be discussed again on December 19, incorporating councilors suggestions.

VFW Site On Main Street To Become Year Round Shelter
Assistant Town Manager Dave Ziomek and Building Commissioner Rob Morra announced that the town has signed a purchase and sale agreement for the VFW site at 457 Main Street. The building and 0.9 acre lot were purchased for $775,000 to be paid with American Rescue Plan funds designated for combatting homelessness. The town had allocated $1 million in ARPA to enable the purchase of a permanent shelter site. When the VFW went out of business during the pandemic, the building became available.

Ziomek noted that the building was built in the 1960’s and is in poor condition. It will be demolished to make way for a permanent shelter and supportive services. He said the town made a commitment to the VFW leadership to look into offering supportive housing for veterans. He added that there will need to be planning with area towns and the state to build a facility that will serve the region. 

The site has public utilities and a bus stop across the street. It is close to downtown and other amenities. A closing date is set for January.

Town Manager Evaluation Accepted
Council President Lynn Griesemer (District 2) incorporated comments from councilors regarding the evaluation of the Town Manager into a single 19-page document. The councilors voted unanimously to accept the document.

At the end of the meeting, nearing midnight, the council went into executive session, presumably to discuss the Town Manager’s salary.

There will be an added council meeting on December 12 to discuss proposed zoning amendments for dining establishments and for floodplain delineation. 


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