Finance Committee Approves CPAC Projects And Override Ballot Language. Chair Delays Consideration Of Motions To Use Reserves To Decrease Impact Of Tax Increase 

Layout of proposed community housing project at Ball Lane. The project will construct 30-32 homes of which 20 will be reserved for low income tenants. CPAC allocated $750,000 to support the project.

Report on The Meeting of the Amherst Finance Committee, February 21, 2023

Andy Steinberg (Chair, at large), Lynn Griesemer (District 2), Cathy Schoen (District 1), Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5), Ellisha Walker (at large)

Non Voting Community Members, Matt Halloway, and Bob Hegner. Absent: Bernie Kubiak

Staff:  Sean Mangano (Finance Director), Paul Bockelman (Town Manager), Sonia Aldrich (Comptroller), David Ziomek (Assistant Town Manager)

Also: Sam MacLeod (Chair, Community Preservation Act Committee)

CPAC Presentation
Sam MacLeod, Chair of the Community Preservation Act Committee (CPAC), offered a slide show presentation on the projects and amounts of funding that CPAC was recommending.  (Read narrative descriptions of each of the projects here). He briefly reviewed each of the recommended projects, totaling $2.79 million in appropriations, as well as a handful of projects that were not recommended in this round of funding but were invited to return with another proposal at a future date.  He noted that the amount of funds requested far exceeded the amount available to the committee and that each applicant was asked to reduce the amount of their request, which they did to good effect. The appropriation amounts are listed by category in the table below.

Following a brief discussion, members of the Finance Committee voted unanimously (5-0 with non-voting members indicating their approval, 2-0 with one absent) to recommend to the full Town Council that they support the funding recommendations of CPAC.

Debt Exclusion Ballot Language
The Finance Committee approved ballot language for the debt exclusion override scheduled for May 2, 2023. The vote was unanimous (5-0) with non-voting members indicating their support 2-0 with one absent. The ballot language will be sent on to the full Town Council for approval, likely at their next meeting on Monday, February 27. The recommended language is below.  View Town Manager’s full memo on the debt exclusion here.

Shall the city known as the Town of Amherst be allowed to exempt from the provisions of Proposition two-and-one-half, so called, the amounts required to pay for the bonds issued in order to construct, originally equip and furnish an elementary school on the Fort River site, located at 70 South East Street, Amherst, MA, including the cost of the architectural design, project management, demolition of the existing building and other necessary site improvements and all costs incidental and related thereto?

During a discussion of the proposed language, Ellisha Walker asked for clarification that this was indeed the language that was mandated by the Commonwealth, noting that it was not particularly clear and made it difficult for voters to know exactly what they were voting for. She asked if it would be possible to provide voters with a simple and clear explanation of what a yes or no vote would mean. Town Manager Paul Bockelman confirmed that this was indeed that mandated language and that the town had little leeway in wording the ballot question. He acknowledged that the wording might be confusing for some voters and noted that the town cannot put additional, clarifying information on the ballot, nor can they post such information at or near polling sites. But he assured the committee that the town will explore other means of getting that information out  to ensure that voters are clear on what a yes or no vote on the ballot initiative will mean.

Proposal To Use Capital Reserve Funds To Lower The Amount Of The Debt Exclusion
Walker announced her intention to make a motion to allocate $10 million from the capital reserve fund to reduce the amount of borrowing necessary to construct a new elementary school at Fort River by that amount. The current estimated cost of that project is approximately $98 million. The town’s share of that project is estimated to be about $55 million. Walker’s motion would  reduce the amount that needed to be borrowed and hence the burden on taxpayers who would see their taxes rise by an average of $500/year if the debt exclusion for the full $55 million passes. The capital reserve fund, which currently holds about $10 million, is designated to be used to support the town’s four major capital projects (elementary school, fire station, DPW headquarters and Jones library renovation). An additional ~$14 million remains in the general reserves. Budget director Sean Mangano has said that the town does not currently plan to use any of those funds toward the elementary school project. 

Schoen announced that she too had a motion to use $5 million of reserve funds for the school building project and that a draft of that motion was included in the meeting packet

Steinberg said that there was not sufficient time to take up either motion and that  Walker’s and Schoen’s motions would be placed on the agenda of a future Finance Committee meeting.

Walker protested the postponement noting that she had shared her motion with Steinberg and with Athena O’Keeffe, the Clerk of Council, and had been led to believe by O’Keeffe that it was in order and would be taken up at today’s meeting. She noted that Steinberg had not responded to her email inquiries about the motion. She voiced her frustration with obstacles that she encounters in her efforts to bring business before the council and its committees. She noted that her motion did not make it into the meeting packet as requested while Schoen’s did.

Steinberg offered to give Walker a few minutes at this meeting to informally present her motion, an offer that she declined until she could fully present her motion..    

Devlin Gauthier asked that Walker’s motion be added to the packet for the next meeting.

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1 thought on “Finance Committee Approves CPAC Projects And Override Ballot Language. Chair Delays Consideration Of Motions To Use Reserves To Decrease Impact Of Tax Increase 

  1. Any motion that benefits Amherst homeowners (like Ms Walker’s) , especially low income homeowners who will suffer with another tax or fee increase, should be prioritized. Both longtime owners and tenants are being driven away from Amherst because it is more and more unaffordable.

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