The following letter was sent to the Amherst Town Council on December 5, 2023.
Dear Town Council:
There are a bunch of reasons why borrowing an additional $9.8 million on behalf of the Jones Library expansion is fiscally irresponsible and should be opposed on December 18.
- It is now beyond dispute that the town will spend more than the $15.8 million cap previously promised. We learned in last week’s Revised Cash Flow that Amherst expects to pay $24.8 million including interest payments. When the Town Council last authorized borrowing, the financial model assumed a 2.8% interest rate. It now assumes 4.25% — a big difference.
- There is still much missing information on which to base a decision such as a model that shows how the DPW and fires station projects will be impacted.
- Proponents have been holding up a bogus $20+ million repair alternative that includes no value engineering and no commitment from the library.
But there is an even more disturbing issue. That is the undemocratic process that has led us to where we are today. Here’s a brief history:
- In 2014-15 two fundraisers, Kent Faerber and Matt Blumenfeld pitched to the trustees the idea of pursuing an Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) library construction grant. So far so good.
- The MBLC requires that the library’s long-range plan support any grant application, so the fundraisers and trustees came up with a new 5-yr plan claiming that a community the size of Amherst needs at least an 87,000 sq. ft. building. This number would have Amherst with its 17,000 full time residents build the 5th largest library in Massachusetts, after Boston, Worcester, Cambridge and Newton. This encouraged a large chunk of grant money, but also required a large commitment of taxpayer funds from the town and a large fundraising commitment.
- In 2018, with funding approval coming up, four Jones Library Capital Campaign (JLCC) fundraisers – Faerber, Blumenfeld, Claudia Canale-Parola and Ginny Hamilton — helped co-found the PAC Amherst Forward. Fundraisers come with large contact lists and social media networks as well as access to people who will donate money to the PAC and lobby for the library project whether it is cost-justified or not.
- In subsequent town council elections Amherst Forward, using endorsements, mass mailings, advertising and voter tracking software, succeeded in helping pro-library-project-funding majorities win town council seats.
- Last week we learned from the Finance Committee that the JLCC intends to pay out $1.05 million in campaign expenses. With personnel expenses representing 90% of campaign expenses, Amherst-Forward-JLCC professional fundraisers stand to earn more than $900,000 for their lobbying efforts.
If this isn’t a conflict of interest and a perversion of our local democracy, I don’t know what is.
Please do the right thing. Vote NO on spending more tax money on a library project propped up by profiteering and cronyism and find a more affordable and equitable way to fix up the Jones Library.
Jeff Lee is a resident of Amherst