By Sarah Marshall
This is the time of year when decisions about how our local tax dollars will be spent in the next fiscal year begin taking shape. Even if the phrase “municipal finance” makes your eyes glaze over, you may want to know a bit about what will happen over the next few months so that you can share your thoughts with the planners and decision makers, including your district councilors, at the appropriate time. If you have opinions about funding of our schools, roads and sidewalks, public safety, “green” infrastructure, affordable housing, or any other area of town expense, make a plan to be involved. Don’t wait until it is too late!
First, if you were not following this blog in the summer, you may want to read this post that gives the basics of our town’s finances.
Second, you may want to attend, or watch later if you cannot attend, the virtual Cuppa’ Joe event on Friday, November 19, from 8-9 a.m. Town Manager Paul Bockelman and Finance Director Sean Mangano will answer questions large and small about town finances and the upcoming budget development schedule for fiscal year 2023 (which begins July 1, 2022).
Third, you may be interested in watching the presentation of Financial Indicators to representatives of Council, the Amherst School Committee, and the Jones Library Trustees on Monday, November 15, or having a look at the slides. Here are the slides from a year ago. You can see that they show 10-year trends for various types of income and expense, give a qualitative judgment about the significance of each trend for the coming year, and finish with the general outlook for town finances for the year ahead. Of course, much is uncertain at such an early point, but these indicators set the tone (looking good! or, uh-oh, tough year ahead!) for budget development. (When the slides of this year’s presentation are posted, we will link to them.)
Fourth, a public budget forum will be held on Monday, November 15 by Zoom – visit the Town Council’s website for details on watching or participating. We believe that the budget calendar will be made public at this time.
Even if you cannot participate in or watch any of the public meetings described above, you can always submit your ideas and opinions about public spending to Town Council, the Amherst School Committee, the Regional School Committee, the Jones Library Trustees, the Town Manager, or the Finance Department.
Fortunately, local taxes are not the town’s only source of revenue. Amherst has received significant funds from the federal government during the pandemic, and is currently deciding what to do with almost $12 million in ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds. Have a look at this presentation from October, in which spending of 80% of those funds is proposed. Public health/racial equity, homelessness, and housing support are targeted for the largest awards.
Furthermore, town staff are frequently successful in landing grants for projects that otherwise might not be undertaken. Recent grants include:
- $449,949 from the state’s Equitable Approaches to Public Safety (EAPS) program to assist in planning and implementing the new CRESS program;
- $1.5 million from the state’s MassWorks program to improve traffic, cyclist, and pedestrian safety through a redesign of the intersection of Pomeroy St., West Pomeroy St., and West St. (Rt. 116) in the Pomeroy Village Center;
- $184,728 under its MassDOT Shared Streets and Spaces Program. The Town’s Safe Streets and Paths project will make mobility improvements along Triangle, Pray, and East Pleasant Streets;
- $250,000 from the Stanton Foundation to assist in the design and construction of Amherst’s first dog park;
- $400,000 from the state’s PARC (Parklands Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities) program toward design and construction of the Kendrick Park playground.
Hats off to town staff for bringing these extra funds here.