Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Town Council, May 15,2023
- Resolutions and Proclamations for Memorial Day, Race Amity Day, and Pride Month were passed.
- Town Council held a public hearing on the FY2024 budget and a public forum on the capital improvement plan.
- Eversource’s plan for a new underground electrical duct bank from South Pleasant Street to College Street was approved. Discussion of a second duct bank at Dickinson Street was continued until June 5.
- Surveillance use policy regarding video and audio recording devices in police cruisers passed on the consent agenda.
This meeting was held in hybrid format and was recorded. The recording can be viewed here.
Councilors present in the Town Room of Town Hall: Lynn Griesemer (President, District 2), Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5), Pat De Angelis (District 2), Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5), Mandi Jo Hanneke (At Large), Pam Rooney (District 4), Andy Steinberg (At large), Jennifer Taub (District 3)
Councilors participating remotely: Anika Lopes (District 4), Michele Miller (District 1), Dorothy Pam (District 3), and Ellisha Walker (At large)
Absent: Cathy Schoen (District 1)
Nonvoting members of the Finance Committee (all remote): Bernie Kubiak, Matt Holloway, Bob Hegner
Staff: Paul Bockelman (Town Manager), Sean Mangano (Finance Director), and Athena O’Keeffe (Clerk of the Council)
Pride Month Resolution Amended And Passed
The resolution proclaiming June to be LGBTQ+ Pride month was removed from the consent agenda by Michele Miller (District 1), in light of the recent alleged anti-trans activity at the Middle School. The resolution was sponsored by councilors Pat DeAngelis (District 2), Mandi Jo Hanneke (At large) and Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5), as well as the Amherst Regional High School Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA). Because there will not be another council meeting before the scheduled June 2 flag raising, the council agreed to add the phrase “and youth” after “residents” in the statement, “WHEREAS, we affirm our support for our LGBTQ+ residents [and youth] and stand with them to protect their civil rights and ability to live openly without fear…”.
Devlin Gauthier said, “Those of us who are in the LGBTQ community or have loved ones in the LGBTQ community know there is no such thing as a bubble of protection from hate or bias. It shows up in subtle ways, and obvious ways, all of them causing harm. In the past few weeks, another damning example of this harm came to light, this time in a place that should be one of learning and support. While our proclamations and flag raisings are symbolic, let this proclamation carry power in its message of love, care, compassion, and fight. We will continue to fight, continue to love, and continue to care for our community.”
The flag raising and reading of the proclamation will be on Friday, June 2 at 4 p.m. The flag will fly until June 30, 2023.
Other Proclamations And Resolutions
Devlin Gauthier and Hanneke proposed a bylaw for Safe Access to Reproductive and Gender Affirming Health Care https://www.amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/67125/8c-Safe-Access-Bylaw-for-Packet, citing the possibility that practitioners providing abortion or gender-affirming care to out-of-state residents could be prosecuted. This bylaw was referred to the Governance, Operations and Legislation committee (GOL). The discussion expanded to the protection of immigrant rights as well.
The Memorial Day Parade will begin at 9:30 on Monday, May 29 in the Spring Street lot and march to the War Memorial Pool on Triangle Street. The Memorial Day proclamation https://www.amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/67121/6a-Memorial-Day-Proclamation-2023—GOL-edits-accepted passed unanimously on the consent agenda.
Race Amity Day will be celebrated on June 11 at 3 p.m. on the steps in front of Town Hall. The proclamation reads: “NOW, THEREFORE, the Town of Amherst hereby proclaims Sunday, June 11, 2023 to be Race Amity Day: A Celebration of the Oneness of the Human Family and asks the community to join in a celebration at Town Hall Steps and on the Commons at 3 p.m. on June 11, 2023.”
Budget And Capital Improvement Hearings
For the month of May, the Finance Committee has been meeting every Tuesday and Friday to go over the FY2024 budget in detail. Each department has presented its proposed budget. Finance Director Sean Mangano presented a brief PowerPoint , highlighting that the $93,457,917 proposed budget was 3.4% more than the FY2023 budget. It includes a three percent increase in the operating budgets of the town, schools, and library, although the School Committee voted for a budget $84,000 more than the Town Manager had allotted to the schools in order to preserve several positions. This difference will need to be reconciled in future deliberations.
The capital spending was increased to 10.5% of the total budget, partly to prepare for the large building projects (elementary school, library, fire station and Department of Public Works building) that are part of the town’s plan. For infrastructure, $2.5 million is allotted to roads and sidewalk repair, $40,000 for tree planting and maintenance, and $230,000 for equipment to maintain the town’s natural grass athletic fields.
Climate action spending includes $775,000 for at least two new electric school buses ($200,000 is expected to be rebated from grants), $225,000 for three new hybrid police cruisers, and $200,000 for energy efficiency improvements to town buildings.
For community safety, $200,000 has been added to the CRESS budget to pay for overtime and communication expenses. The fire department is slated to get $725,000 for a new pumper truck and $450,000 for a new ambulance. These will not be totally funded from property tax receipts. The Health Department will receive an extra $25,000 for administrative support for the town’s participation in the mosquito control district. The DEI Department will receive $6,000 for programming, community engagement, and staff training, and a second lead dispatcher for emergency calls will cost $8,000. Lastly $5,000 has been set for a pilot program for reimbursing elected officials for childcare. This benefit has been offered to Town Meeting members, and has been touted as a way to encourage a broader segment of the population to participate in town government. The issue of increasing salaries for town councilors is being discussed at the Finance Committee, but would not go into effect until January, 2024.
Other highlights of the proposed budget are Community Preservation Act funds awarded to two projects for creating affordable housing, the Way Finders project at the East Street School and on Belchertown Road, and the affordable duplexes planned on Ball Lane by Valley Community Development Corporation. Also $400,000 has been allotted to the DPW to replace pump station number 4 and $70,000 to replace the scale at the transfer station.
Looking toward the future, the Finance Department recommends the creation of a working group to focus on the long-term financial sustainability of the schools and an economic development task force working with the university and colleges to continue economic growth.
As far as the capital improvement program is concerned, , Mangano noted that money has been set aside for maintenance of existing infrastructure, roads, and sidewalks. He said all projects will be evaluated through a “lens of their impact on climate change”.
Allegra Clark urged the council to fund the additional $84,000 requested by the School Committee for the school budget and to increase the funding for CRESS by reallocating police department funds. Zoe Crabtree agreed, noting that the Amherst Police Department has 48 employees, including 30 officers, as compared to the CRESS staff of 10.
Lauren Mills advocated for creating a Youth Empowerment Center using remaining American Rescue Act funds.
Eversource Underground Electrical Duct Bank From South Pleasant Street To College Street Approved. Dickinson Street Project Continued To June 5.
Eversource plans to upgrade electrical service to the town and to Amherst College by improving the manhole systems so that service can be run underground to the transformer box on College Street, eventually allowing the removal of utility poles. The company will be able to build off the upgraded manhole systems and supply service to a wider part of town. Eversource representatives noted the increased demand for electricity, with new buildings downtown and at Amherst College, and with property owners converting to non-fossil fuel heating and cooling systems. For now, the utility poles will remain because they still supply service for Verizon, Comcast, and Five College Fiber. DPW Superintendent Guilford Mooring said that that service can easily be moved underground using the duct system created for Eversource, and hopes the utility poles can be removed in the next one to two years.
Although the Eversource plans for South Pleasant Street to College Street were approved without dissent, a similar plan for the area from the Town Common to Dickinson Street that involves an additional utility pole in front of 140 Dickinson Street was met with questions. At issue was the fact that the owner of that property did not receive an abutter’s notice until three days prior to the public hearing, allegedly because of a delay in the mail. Town regulations require a 10-day advance notification. Also, several councilors noted that the council aims to reduce the number of utility poles, and this plan results in an increase.
Pam Rooney (District 4) wondered if the additional pole could be placed on the south side of College Street, since its main purpose is to serve Amherst College, but Mooring stated that this is not possible because of a large transformer that is needed. He said that it would be a safety issue to run these lines underground.
Aaron Hayden, Director of Utilities at Amherst College, said that the college is very much in favor of this project and that it would be the one most affected by the construction. Only one lane on College Street would be open during construction. Mooring said he hopes that Amherst College, Verizon, and Comcast would help with the cost of repaving that stretch of road, which belongs to the town.
The hearing was continued to June 5 at 6:35.
The meeting adjourned at 8:43 p.m. The council next meets on June 5.