Amherst town manager: ‘The state of the town is strong’

  • Amherst Town Council President Lynn Griesemer and Town Manager Paul Bockelman take turns addressing a crowd of about 100 people attending a ribbon-cutting for the new Kendrick Park playground on Aug. 24. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Monday, December 20, 2021

AMHERST — Amherst concludes 2021 in good financial shape, but the town must remain attentive as planning continues for four building projects and creation of two new municipal departments in the new year, according to town officials.

“The state of the town is strong,” Town Manager Paul Bockelman said at Monday’s annual state of the town address.

At the virtual presentation, Bockelman said budgets have been well managed and wise decisions have been made by Amherst leaders to get through the ongoing pandemic with finances intact.

“Our entire operation, our plans for new buildings and new staff, is predicated on a strong financial foundation,” Bockelman said. “While our finances are strong, we must be vigilant to maintain this footing.”

Significant focus is on creating a Community Responders for Equity and Social Services (CRESS) department as an alternative to police for some situations, and a Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, with an advertisement recently going out seeking a director. Bockelman said the town is also a national leader on moving forward with reparations for African heritage residents.

For building projects, he said the Massachusetts School Building Authority process for a new elementary school is underway and the town recently received the first $2.7 payment from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners for an expanded and renovated Jones Library. The town is also still evaluating potential sites where a new Department of Public Works headquarters could be located, as the DPW must move before a new fire station can be built on its South Pleasant Street site.

During his presentation, Bockelman praised employees and the work that has allowed for the creation of two new playgrounds at Kendrick and Groff parks, and the possible expansion of North Amherst Library.

Similarly, Town Council President Lynn Griesemer, who opened the meeting, used it as an opportunity to thank people, including first responders, public works employees, community volunteers, Amherst Media, Bockelman and her colleagues.

“It is our town staff that keep government moving,” Griesemer said. She particularly complimented the work done by the clerk to the town council, Athena O’Keeffe. “She’s simply outstanding,” Griesemer said.

The state of the town also included a presentation by Allison McDonald, chairwoman of the Amherst and Amherst-Pelham Regional school committees, who said that necessary cuts to budgets have been made that minimize impacts on students and teachers.

Four goals are underway for the new year. They include focusing on the project to replace Fort River and Wildwood elementary schools with a new building and the necessity of moving sixth graders to the middle school; the continuing pandemic response; promoting diversity, equity and inclusion; and taking on curriculum matters, such as evaluating the block schedule in place at the high school and making sure the elementary math curriculum is aligned with that at the middle and high schools.

Library trustee Christopher Hoffmann said staff and trustees at the library have put in hundreds of hours on the building project and appreciated the voters overwhelming support for it at the Nov. 2 referendum.