Dear Councilors: Don’t disempower voters!

By Sarah Marshall

Less than one year ago, 65% of voters decisively affirmed Council’s vote to proceed with the $36 million plan for the Jones Library expansion and renovation. The funding plan envisions that $15.8 million will come from taxpayers – with no increase in property taxes – with the rest of the funds coming from the state, fundraising, tax credits, and a CPA grant.

While recent estimates of the building cost are disconcertingly higher than expected, there is no need for panic, despair, or for Council to act prematurely to slow or halt the project. As far as I know, the library Trustees have not asked the Town to commit more than the $15.8 million already approved. The design work and the fundraising should both proceed, and when the construction bids are opened – by which time the broader economic picture should be clearer – then will be the moment of reckoning. Then may come the moment for Town Council to consider whether the taxpayers’ contribution should be increased or the project canceled, if a funding gap remains. But now is not that moment.

Photo by Parker Johnson on Unsplash

Some are arguing that proceeding with the library project now will endanger the upcoming debt exclusion vote for a new elementary school. I disagree. The ultimate decision about the library will happen months after the school vote, and certainly that debate will consider the burden on taxpayers.

In fact, I think that any effort by Council to halt the library project before construction bids are in hand will undercut the school effort. Why? Because Council will have chosen to ignore the will of the voters as expressed last November. Until Council faces a decision to appropriate more taxpayer money for the library, it should honor the outcome of the 2021 vote and give the library’s many supporters time to secure additional funds and commitments. 

Please, do not repeat Town Meeting’s mistake. Do not discourage voters from going to the polls by showing, for yet a third time, that their votes do not matter to Amherst’s elected representatives. Do not reject another multimillion-dollar state grant for no good reason – that would do incalculable damage to the Town’s applications for future state grants.

Let the design work for both the school and library continue. As a town, we can say ”yes” to a new school in a few months, and then, when the bids for the library are unsealed, proceed with construction once we are satisfied that the additional fundraising will cap the town’s cost at the level approved by the voters.

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