Issues & Analyses: Amended Agreement Leaves Town on the Hook


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In advance of a Town Council vote on December 18 to authorize another $10 million in borrowing for the Jones Library expansion and renovation project, a new amendment to the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Jones Library and the town has been drafted. Despite requests from councilors to “tighten it up,” the latest amendment doesn’t do what they asked, leaving the Town liable for costs beyond the committed $15.8 million (plus interest).

At the Town Council meeting on December 4, Councilors Cathy Schoen, Ellisha Walker, and Pam Rooney requested changes to the MOA with the intent to limit the town’s responsibility for borrowing and other costs and better protect it from financial risk.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman, Council President Lynn Griesemer, Library Director Sharon Sharry, and Library Trustees Chair Austin Sarat subsequently met in private to discuss changes to the MOA and a revised version was presented to the Library Trustees at an in person meeting on December 13 where it received unanimous support, with little discussion.

Among the changes requested by Councilors were:

  • for the Library to share in the interest cost of short term borrowings (a.k.a. Bond Anticipation Notes or BANs) taken out during construction
  • commitment that the library will not come back to the Town with requests for money for furniture, etc. (the loose furnishings budget has been reduced by $1.4 million to $605,200)
  • clarity on who is responsible for fundraising costs, projected to exceed $1 million 
  • clarity that the Town’s share will not increase beyond $15.8 million (plus interest)
  • for the Cash Flow table to be added as a schedule of the MOA so that the projected schedule of contributions from the library are binding
  • include a table that reiterates the breakdown of the funding sources.

While effort was made to address some of these requests in the revised MOA, others are notably absent. 

Most impactful is the lack of any cost sharing of interest on short term borrowings during construction, leaving the town responsible for all of it, which could easily exceed $1 million. These borrowings are made necessary because the full library and state’s shares will not be received until after construction is complete. This means the town would in fact be paying much more than principal and interest on the $15.8 million commitment. Annual debt repayments come out of the already-insufficient capital budget, the same fund used to pay for road, sidewalk, and building repairs, and to purchase equipment and vehicles. It is also the same fund from which debt on a new fire station or public works facility would be paid, projects likely to be further delayed.

The request to require cost sharing of interest on the short term borrowings was an effort by Schoen to incentivize the library to pay its share sooner “because they’re on the hook for some of that short-term interest.”  

The language on the library coming back to the town for more money for furnishing the building is also likely to result in the town paying more than the $15.8 million commitment. The clause in the new MOA only disallows capital requests in fiscal years 2025 and 2026. Requests for expenses such as furnishings are permitted starting in fiscal year 2027, according to this language, shortly after the expected completion of construction. 

One thing that was included in the MOA, albeit in unclear wording, is that the Library is responsible for all fundraising expenses. From the new MOA, “The Library agrees that it shall deposit with the Town Treasurer all funds once received less fundraising costs and expenses, such fundraising costs which shall neither increase nor reduce the New Library Share.” This still allows the library to hold back sufficient funds to cover its expenses along the way but ultimately requires it to pay its full share after the project is complete. According to the MOA, while the library is expected to hand over funds as received, the balance of the Library Share is not due until June 30, 2027, or later “if the Town Council approves a later date.” This is not what is projected in the cash flow, which shows the library paying the remainder by July 31, 2026. This means the Town would be paying interest on larger short term borrowings for another year. 

Walker’s request to attach the Cash Flow as a schedule in the MOA was clearly intended to legally obligate the Library to pay according to the projections — $2 million by January 2024, $4 million by January 2025, $5 million by January 2026, and the balance by July 2026. While Bockelman did attach his memo with the Cash Flow to the MOA, there was no language added that obligates the library to pay the town according to that schedule, no incentive for them to do so, no penalty if they cannot, and no remedy for the town to compel the library when they fail to meet the schedule. The library sits on an $8 million endowment while taxpayers will foot the bill for borrowing to front the library’s share.

The amended MOA does not do what was asked by councilors, leaving more than enough reason for them to withhold support for the supplemental borrowing authorization. The MOA amendment leaves the town on the hook for much more than the promised $15.8 million contribution, and carries with it great risk to the fiscal well-being of the Town and the capacity to attend to other more pressing needs. 

Toni Cunningham is a resident of Amherst’s District 1.

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3 thoughts on “Issues & Analyses: Amended Agreement Leaves Town on the Hook

  1. Thanks, Toni, for explaining the new Town-Library agreement ( and pointing out that it includes no sharing of interest payments nor any limit on future town borrowing should the building project cost rise beyond $46.14 million.

    Lynn Griesemer and Paul Bockelman have maneuvered to pass taxpayer funding for the bloated Jones Library expansion since day one. Asking them to negotiate an agreement with the Library on behalf of the Town is like hiring the fox to install a security system on the henhouse.

  2. I’d love an improved library, but am bothered by the seemingly intentional opacity of the process. And bothered by the town’s acceptance of seemingly intentional unclarity, to the disadvantage of our town’s taxpayers.

    I would have loved more if the library had been better maintained over the years. I understand the support for a newly constructed library, but wonder if all those supporter support the sharp-elbowed way this all has transpired.

    I also don’t understand why anyone thinks a library with 19,000 card holders needs the excess capacity of a library built for 50,000 card holders. Or why the maximum the town will pay is stated without interest, which is a lot more than what we said was the max. Or why these oft-asked questions never got clear answers.

  3. This is why the lack of a separation of elected executive and legislative powers in the charter, which violates the Massachusetts constitution despite the charter having been approved by Commonwealth authorities, is a critical problem.

    The next steps will require courage and determination….

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