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Amherst Finance Committee endorses $68.2M budget

  • Amherst Town Hall. STAFF FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Friday, June 07, 2019

AMHERST — A $68.2 million budget that will cover the costs of operating the town, the elementary schools and the town’s share of the library system beginning July 1 has been endorsed by the Finance Committee.

The panel on Tuesday voted 4-0 to recommend the full Town Council approve the budget, which includes $24.58 million in spending on municipal services, $23.84 million for the Amherst elementary schools and $2.04 million in tax support for the Jones Library, as well as $6.4 million for retirement and other post-employment benefits and other obligations, and $4.7 million for other assessments.

Amherst Town Council previously approved $16.44 million for the Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools, taking up that spending to align Amherst with when the district’s other towns, Pelham, Shutesbury and Leverett, held their annual Town Meetings in late April and early May.

At Large Councilor Andy Steinberg, who chairs the Finance Committee, said the town’s finances are in good shape and the budgets feature no proposed reductions or even dilutions of existing programs.

There is also no need to seek a Proposition 2½ tax-cap override to meet the budget, though Steinberg observes that is because the town has had sufficient development to provide new tax revenue.

District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam said she would like to get more information about how well-financed the town is and whether budgets will continue to depend on future commercial and residential development.

“I don’t find that a great situation,” Pam said.

Pam added that she is particularly concerned that taxes from new growth depends on projects being developed on the east side of Kendrick Park in downtown Amherst, where One East Pleasant and Kendrick Place mixed-use buildings have gone up.

A Historical Commission hearing next week could determine if three more buildings in that area will be demolished, including the Pub restaurant, which may show that more development is coming to that part of town. Pam suggested the Town Council may need to give better direction for project developments.

“I just have a sense of not enough order right now,” Pam said.

Pam said her other concern is spending on so many building projects at once, including an elementary school, a fire station for South Amherst, a new Department of Public Works headquarters and an expanded and renovated Jones Library.

Council President Lynn Griesemer said she anticipates the council will have a discussion about how to find ways to diversify the tax base so that the tax burden doesn’t continually fall on homeowners.

In addition to the budgets, the Finance Committee recommended $2.54 million for capital needs in fiscal year 2020, such as building improvements and vehicle purchases, and $839,040 in projects supported by the Community Preservation Act account. Those CPA projects include $200,000 to protect a portion of Hickory Ridge Golf Course from development, $110,000 to modernize Groff Park and $50,000 for headstone repairs at West Cemetery.

Two additional CPA projects being supported include $188,000 to preserve the Szala property, 25 acres between the existing Podick and Katherine Cole conservation area in North Amherst near the Hadley town line, and $638,000 for the Keet Haskins property, 49 acres between East Leverett and Market Hill roads that would protect the Cushman Brook and the town’s water supply.

Besides putting off a recommendation on $500,000 in borrowing to support an enhanced single-room occupancy project proposed by Valley Community Development Corp., the Finance Committee is also waiting to make recommendations on a series of borrowing articles to pay for designs of the new DPW and fire station, and other projects, until those projects are closer to proceeding.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.