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Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman delivers $90M spending plan

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Monday, May 16, 2022

AMHERST — A proposed fiscal year 2023 municipal budget that allows the town to pursue objectives, including promoting racial equity and addressing climate change, is under review by the Town Council.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman delivered the $89.9 million budget plan on May 2. He described it as a strong document that preserves existing programs, invests in infrastructure, and includes more than $300,000 for the new public safety department that will feature eight unarmed responders.

“Two of our overarching goals, sustainability and equity, serve as lenses for all of our decisions,” Bockelman said. “The budget I present to you tonight is aligned with the goals of the Town Council.”

The proposed spending package is $4.34 million, or 5.1% higher, than the current year’s $85.6 million budget, though it stays within guidelines set by the Finance Committee.

Embedded in the budget, Bockelman said, are ways for the town to rise from the challenges caused by the pandemic and to be proactive, not reactive, in emerging from it.

Highlights of spending are the continuation of the Community Responders for Equity, Safety and Service, or CRESS program, and getting capital spending up to $7.29 million, or 10% of the tax levy, a goal that was waylaid due to the pandemic.

The overall budget includes the $17.17 million assessment for the Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools, which has a $33.17 million budget; a $25.05 million budget for the elementary schools, which is slightly less than the $25.11 million requested by the Amherst School Committee; and a $2.41 million appropriation toward the $2.74 million Jones Library budget.

With more money directed to capital, Bockelman said the idea is to continue setting aside money that will be used toward the four major building projects, which are a new elementary school, the Jones Library expansion and renovation, a new fire station in South Amherst and a new Department of Public Works headquarters.

More immediately, capital spending will include $200,000 for unspecified sustainability initiatives, as well as purchasing hybrid police cruisers and anti-idling technology for fire vehicles, allowing their engines to be turned off while systems continue operating.

In addition to CRESS, another equity initiative is the $175,257 in the budget to establish an Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Finance Director Sean Mangano said the town is seeing strong new growth that is vital to maintaining programming and investing in new initiatives. That new growth includes the mixed-use buildings rising in downtown and elsewhere.

The budget also includes a $5.08 million water fund, a $4.95 million sewer fund, a $702,085 transportation fund and a $511,864 solid waste fund.

An outline of how $9.77 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act money is being used also is in the budget, though that spending is above and beyond the town’s spending plan. Major ARPA funding includes $1 million going toward affordable housing, $1 million to address homelessness, $875,000 to fire and EMS staffing and $800,000 to have the sixth-grade classes transition to the Amherst Regional Middle School building in the fall of 2023. There is also $500,000 that will go toward exploring the creation of a youth empowerment center.

A review of the budget and public feedback will be done over the next two months, with a vote by the Town Council to be taken before July 1.