Amherst looking at flat budget next year

Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 17, 2020

AMHERST — Continued economic uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic means Amherst may not have additional money to spend on town, school and library services next year, based on initial financial indicators.

In the first projections unveiled for fiscal year 2022 budgets, which begin July 1, 2021, Amherst finance officials informed the Town Council, Amherst and Amherst-Pelham regional school committees and the trustees for the Jones Library on Monday that there will only be enough money available for “level funding.” 

That means, even with contracts with unions calling for cost-of-living increases and other salary adjustments, the town is unlikely to have more money to spend, and that there will be no increases for this year’s $24.6 million town budget, $23.8 million budget for elementary schools, $16.4 million regional school assessment, and $2.04 million appropriation for the Jones Library.

Finance Director Sean Mangano said any additional revenue coming to the town will likely be through regular tax increases allowed under the state’s Proposition 2½ law and about $500,000 in anticipated “new growth” related to housing and commercial construction.

But Mangano that there is no anticipated increase in local receipts and in various revenues from motel and hotel and meals taxes, and that the $3.4 million the town received in federal CARES Act money will not be available again next year.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said the budget uncertainties are compounded by the state still not having its budget set for this year.

Still, Bockelman said positives include the town’s AA+ bond rating and the $17.5 million in reserve accounts, representing 21.5% of the town operating budget 

In addition, both the University of Massachusetts and Amherst College are bringing back more students in the spring, which could allow businesses to “snap back” that survive the pandemic. 

“We believe we are in a very strong position economically,” Bockelman said.

The lone increase in next year’s budget being forecast is for capital items, such as building repairs and vehicle and equipment purchases. That budget will go from $3.23 million, or 5% of the budget, this year to $5.26 million, or 8% of the budget.

The idea, Mangano said, is to get the capital spending to pre-pandemic levels and set the stage for the various building projects that include a new or renovated elementary school, a renovated and expanded Jones Library, a South Amherst fire station to replace the aging building downtown, and a new site for Department of Public Works.

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