The following letter was sent to the Amherst Town Council on November 10, 2023.
I am writing to urge you to Vote No on Monday November 13 on the referral to the Finance Committee of the Jones Library Building Project Bond Authorization, and Vote No on November 20 to authorizing the supplemental appropriation of $9,860,100, which would bring the total borrowing authorization for the library project to $46,139,800.
Many times, I have heard Town Manager Paul Bockelman say he cannot move forward with a project until ALL funds are in hand. Why would this case be any different?
Recall what Mr. Bockelman wrote to you about the North Amherst Library project:
“I made it abundantly clear that this was not a priority for the expenditure of town capital funds at this time. However, if significant donations covered the entire cost to the project, it would justify the allocation of staff to explore the project. I emphasized that I could only support the project if no town funds were used for planning or construction.”
“No construction activity would commence until all funds were secured and available for the project.”
You know that all the funds are NOT available and secured for the Jones Library expansion project, and they won’t be by 6/30/24, the date by which construction would have to begin. In fact, the town has only received $500,000 from the Jones Trustees to date. The latest cost estimates have not been made public and regardless, the true cost will not be known until construction bids are received in February.
Even if you give the library trustees the benefit of the doubt and take their word on every dollar they say has been raised by the capital campaign, it is still at least $4.5 million short, and that is assuming the highly unlikely event whereby bids come in at or below $46.1 million, and include everything the library will need.
The bottom line is we don’t have the money now so you should not be approving this bond authorization.
By approving the ~$10 million higher bond authorization, the Town Council is saying we – the Town – can borrow up to $46.1 million to pay for this highly controversial project for a PRIVATELY OWNED building, committing us to paying back debt service out of our very limited capital budget.
Approving this higher bond authorization is taking on an unacceptable level of risk and debt for a building we don’t own, at a time when most of our town-owned municipal buildings are in desperate need of repair.
A Yes vote is saying that the library expansion is THE highest priority project in town. Forget roads and sidewalks and the fire station and anything else that you may value more than a larger Jones library. This is where property tax revenues would be funneled for 20 years, instead of to things that residents arguably value far more.
Amherst cannot afford to dedicate at least $16.8 million + millions more in interest + cost overruns/fundraising shortfall to this project when other higher priority needs cannot be funded and our roads are riddled with potholes.
I strongly urge you, as stewards of our tax dollars, to vote No to referring the bond authorization to the Finance Committee on 11/13. And if/when it comes up to you on November 20th, vote No to the supplemental appropriation request of $9,860,100.
Toni Cunningham is a resident of Amherst’s District 1