This meeting was held in a hybrid format and was recorded. The recording can be viewed here.
Councilors present: Lynn Griesemer (President, District 2), Cathy Schoen (District 1), Dorothy Pam and Jennifer Taub (District 3), Pam Rooney (District 4), Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5), Mandi Jo Hanneke, Andy Steinberg, and Ellisha Walker (At Large).
Absent: Michele Miller (District 1), Pat DeAngelis (District 2), Anika Lopes (District 4), and Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5)
Staff: Paul Bockelman (Town Manager) and Athena O’Keeffe (Clerk of the Council)
Most of the items on the June 5 Town Council meeting were approved without discussion on the Consent Agenda. Only nine of the 13 councilors attended the meeting. The council passed proclamations for Juneteenth, Race Amity Day (amended), and a recognition of Girl Scout Arwen King, who received a gold award. The council also accepted the Town Manager’s nominations for appointments to many town committees. Also approved was a new plan from Eversource for a utility pole on Dickinson Street. There was a brief discussion of the Finance Committee’s detailed report on the FY2024 budget.
Placement Of Utility Pole On Dickinson Street Resolved With Revised Plan
At the May 15 Council meeting, a plan from Eversource for a new utility pole on Dickinson Street to provide additional service to Amherst College was questioned. Resident Greg Call objected to the new pole being placed directly opposite his driveway. In response, Eversource proposed moving the site of the new pole to the south. This new pole will connect with the duct system running under Route 9 to Amherst College.
Councilor Dorothy Pam (District 3) noted that, in driving down Dickinson Street, she counted nine utility poles, many of them right next to each other, and sagging wires over the street. Superintendent of Public Works Guilford Mooring explained that the poles contain services, such as those of Xfinity, town communications, and Verizon in addition to electrical service, so that when Eversource moves its service to a new pole, the original poles remain until the other companies move theirs.
Public Comment: Dangerous Traffic Conditions Near Cushman Scott Children’s Center
Director of Cushman Scott Children’s Center Mary Ann Ziomek and parent Christopher Killian said the center has spent many years trying to deal with the dangerous conditions posed by speeding traffic in front of the center on Henry Street. The speed limit is posted at 25 miles per hour, but they said a recent police watch showed many cars traveling at 35 mph. A parking lot for the center is across Henry Street from the school, so many families must cross Henry Street. Killian said he sees close calls on a daily basis, and “I refuse to see a child killed.”
The center has met with the Amherst Police Department and Department of Public Works (DPW), but a stop sign or speed bumps are not allowed by the federal standards for roadways. According to Town Manager Paul Bockelman, the town is still working on a satisfactory solution. He said that because residents often submit requests for changes in traffic patterns on their streets, the town needs to look at the problem holistically, since a change on one street might worsen conditions on neighboring ones. Councilor Pam Rooney (District 4) suggested that the town have a defined process for evaluating such roadway requests. The matter will most likely be referred to the Town Services and Outreach Committee at the June 12 Council meeting.
Juneteenth Proclamation And Citation Recognizing Arwen King Read
Councilor Ellisha Walker (At large) read the last paragraph of the Juneteenth proclamation to acknowledge the weekend of June 17-19 to commemorate the holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the country. Walker read:
NOW, THEREFORE, we the Amherst Town Council, do hereby proclaim June 19th, 2023, as Juneteenth in Amherst, and we invite the Amherst community to join us for a weekend full of celebratory events that honor our history and our community, and we encourage the community to view Amherst’s Civil War tablets, located in the Bangs Center, to honor all our residents who served in the Civil War.
Girl Scout Arwen King was honored for achieving the Gold Award, the highest award in the Girl Scouts. Her project centered on education about Type 1 diabetes and the benefits of a low carbohydrate diet. Councilor Jennifer Taub (District 3) read the end of King’s citation:
NOW, THEREFORE, we the Amherst Town Council do hereby recognize and congratulate Arwen King on her achievement of the Girl Scout Gold Award. AND, FURTHER, we instruct the Clerk of the Amherst Town Council to send a copy of this citation to Arwen King and the Board of Directors of the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts.
Councilors Offer Comments On FY2024 Budget
The Finance Committee has completed its monthlong review of the FY2024 budget proposed by the Town Manager and issued a detailed report. During the brief discussion at the meeting, councilors decried the increasingly poor condition of the town’s roads and sidewalks. Cathy Schoen (District 1) noted that, while many town departments are short staffed, the DPW is especially challenged by the shortage of employees. She pointed out the limited supply of asphalt and of resurfacing companies that all towns in the region compete for.
Taub was interested in a comment made in the Finance Committee report that suggested a more regional approach to road repair, with a consortium of area communities that would coordinate road repair. Finance Director Sean Mangano said that a regional organization may be better able to compete for road work contracts than individual towns, but this idea has yet to be explored. Council President Lynn Griesemer (District 2) said that if this was determined to be a priority, the council could direct the Town Manager to investigate regionalization of road services. Any changes in the way road repair is handled would be in the FY 2025 budget.
Pam said, “Somehow we need to deal with this—we need new approaches and new thoughts.”
New water and sewer rates were approved by 9-0-0 votes. Rooney questioned why agricultural water rates were the same as residential. Andy Steinberg (At large) pointed out that the cost of providing water for agriculture is the same as providing it to homes, but farms do not pay sewer costs for water used in farming.
Council Committee Reports
Mandi Jo Hanneke (At large) announced that the Community Resources Committee will hold interviews for the Planning Board on Monday, June 12 at 4:30 p.m. and for the Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday, June 15 at 11:30. The recommended appointments will be brought to the June 26 Town Council meeting.
The Finance Committee will take up discussion of increasing councilor compensation at its June 9 meeting. The charter mandates that any change in councilor compensation must be approved in the first 18 months of a session, so this matter must be decided by July 2 to go into effect by the next council. The FY 2024 budget includes $5000 for family care to compensate elected officials for costs incurred for attending meetings.
Schoen Requests More Information On Jones Library Project
After a brief report by Bockelman on the recent Jones Library Building Committee meeting, Schoen requested more information on the project for the next council meeting. She said she wants to have a better idea of where the project stands as far as current projected costs and money raised through donations and grants. She also wants an update on “Plan B,” the plan to fix the library’s failing HVAC system and leaking roof as well as other required maintenance if the larger expansion plan does not occur.
Schoen noted that the grant the Jones received from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners mandates that the library maintain all services during construction. She wants to know the plan for where services and materials will be located during that time.
In addition, she wants a report on the planning for the center of town during construction if the Jones expansion is approved and the remodeling of the North Common takes place at the same time.
Town Manager’s Report
Bockelman’s detailed Town Manager Report is included in this issue of The Indy. He announced that the town’s Independence Day celebration will be held near the UMass Football stadium on Saturday, July 1 at 5 p.m. Fireworks will begin at dark, around 9:30 p.m. The rain date is July 8.
Bockelman also said that J & J Farms, the last remaining dairy farm in Amherst, burned after a lightening strike on June 2. The barn, silos, and all equipment and hay were a total loss, but some of the house structure was saved. The 93-year-old resident was helped out safely, and all 32 cows were removed to nearby farms.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:18 p.m. The next council meeting is scheduled for June 12 at 6:30 p.m.