Toni Cunningham: Sophie’s choice: Bigger library or new school?

Thursday, January 09, 2020

If you had to choose between an expanded Jones library and a new elementary school, which would you choose? That could be the “Sophie’s Choice” facing Amherst this year.

The $13.9 million library grant from the state is expected to be awarded in June, and the town will then have six months to secure the funding to cover the $22 million balance. Town officials have said a property tax increase (debt exclusion override) will likely be needed to pay for it, which would require a majority vote by residents.

An elementary school project will also require a property tax increase to pay for it, but it won’t be put to voters until 2022.

How likely is it that Amherst residents would approve two substantial property tax increases in two years? If the library project moves forward, and a debt exclusion override to pay for it passes this fall or next spring, could that jeopardize a new school vote? Is that a risk worth taking?

In an ideal world, Amherst would be able to afford it all — a new school, fire station, DPW facility and an expanded library — while also maintaining roads, sidewalks, other town buildings and equipment, playgrounds, athletic fields, etc., but in reality, the town has to live within its means and make some difficult choices.

What would you choose?

Toni Cunningham