A look back and a look forward

By Nick Grabbe and Sarah Marshall

The Amherst Current is marking its first birthday this week with a look back at the past year and with news about the future.

First, we want to thank our subscribers, occasional readers, contributors, and commenters. It is indicative of our reliance on others that the two most widely read posts of the past year (“A civil conversation” and “Remembering Baer Tierkel”) were not written by either of us. Contributors have written on a wide range of issues and have enriched the conversation.

Nick Grabbe and Sarah Marshall

For most of the past year, we posted twice a week, with occasional extra posts, more than 125 in all. In addition, we provided updates in certain categories on the left side of our home page. Some of these, such as “Fact Check” and “Recent House Sales” were closely followed by readers. Even our bios, “About Us,” attracted over 1,000 views.

But far more widely read was “Election Update,” which became the go-to place last fall to find out about candidates filing papers, logging 2,322 views. The “Candidate Information” page also provided up-to-the minute resources for voters. November’s election, which was one of the reasons we started this blog in the first place, was a central focus for us. We published eight posts on candidates and seven on the Jones Library referendum.

The Amherst Current was the first outlet to provide the results on Election Night and we provided 21 next-day comments from knowledgeable observers. We supported a “yes” vote on the Jones Library referendum but did not endorse any candidates.

We also wrote numerous explanatory posts designed to make complex issues easier to understand. These dealt with the spike in house prices and the squeeze on student
rentals, energy conservation at the Jones Library and the new elementary school, and why property taxes in Amherst are so high. We explained parking, potholes and Public Works, plus climate mitigation projects, Town budgeting, and hydroponics, and we also followed political campaign finances.

Nick decided to refrain from further commenting on local issues as of Jan. 1, returning to the neutral stance he adopted in his 32 years at the newspapers. He then wrote a four-part series on famous writers who lived in Amherst and a three-part series on the history of journalism in town. Sarah’s goal for the last year was fostering a better understanding of how Town government works and how the public can participate. Lately, she focused on the elementary school building project.

But now it is summer! Until the fall, the Amherst Current will be posting less frequently, only as events warrant and as issues arise. (We will still add notices of interest to the “On our radar” page and keep up “Recent House Sales.”) We’ll be following progress towards and comments on the override vote on the new school building, expected in March, to see if the debate is less contentious than it was six or seven years ago. In the fall, we’ll decide what the future holds for this blog.

As always, you can reach us at theamherstcurrent@gmail.com and all our posts are still available (click on a category of interest in the menu or scroll through “all posts”).

It has been a privilege to serve the Amherst community by providing more perspective on the issues that matter to all of us.

Editors’ Note #8

We plan to begin election-related fact checking!  Please email us if you read or hear, first-hand, incorrect or suspect public statements from candidates or groups. You must be able to document who, what, when, and where, and provide your name, and if you can document the correct information, please send it also. Be sure to distinguish statements of fact and statements of opinion, and allow for some campaign hyperbole. No anonymous tips! (But we won’t post your name.) And no guarantee that we can or will choose to respond. If we learn of errors worthy of correction, we will begin a Fact-check page.

This is new for us so we will see how it goes.

Editors’ note

We will launch a new page, Candidate Information and Events, next week.  Since the nomination period has not yet closed and campaigns are just getting started, content will be light at first but will grow over time. Candidates and groups are invited to submit information to us (theamherstcurrent@gmail.com) that meets requirements detailed on the page. For example, we will list events that are open to all candidates (for Town Council, at least all candidates for a district), candidate web pages and social media links, and links to any surveys sent to all candidates.

Editors’ Note

Last night, Town Council voted to put the Jones Library project on the Nov. 2 ballot. The ballot question will be, in essence, do you affirm Town Council’s vote of Apr. 5 to proceed with the expansion and renovation of the Jones Library? The exact language, including the approved summary, appears below. And remember that you can learn about the project at the Jones Library page under Town Government 101 in our menu.

 The following referendum question will appear on the November 2, 2021 Ballot.

QUESTION: Shall the following measure authorizing a borrowing for the expansion and renovation of the Jones Library, as voted by the Town Council on April 5, 2021, be affirmed?

BE IT ORDERED by the Town Council of the Town of Amherst that: The Town appropriate $35,279,700 for the expansion and renovation of the Jones Library, and to meet this appropriation, authorize the Treasurer, with the approval of the Town Manager, to borrow said amount, under and pursuant to M.G.L. Chapter 44, Section 7, 8, or pursuant to any other enabling authority, and to issue bonds or notes of the Town therefore, which borrowing shall be reduced to the extent of any grants received from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, funds received from The Jones Library, Incorporated in an amount no less than $5,656,576 which, in addition to the $1,000,000 previously appropriated under the Community Preservation Act, represents the Library’s share of the total project cost, and/or any other source to pay costs of this project; and, further, any premium received by the Town upon the sale of any bonds or notes approved by this vote, less any such premium applied to costs of issuance of such bonds or notes, may be applied to project costs approved by this vote with a reduction of borrowing authority therefore by a like amount in accordance with M.G.L. Chapter 44, Section 20.

SUMMARY: On April 5, 2021, the Town Council voted with 10 in favor, 2 opposed, and 1 abstention, to authorize a borrowing for the expansion and renovation of the Jones Library. The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners has awarded the Town a grant of approximately $13.8 million for this project with payments starting this year; approximately $5.7 million will be provided through private donations as set forth in an agreement with the Jones Library Board of Trustees; and $1.0 million was appropriated from the Community Preservation Act funds. With these funds secured, the Town’s share of the total project costs will be approximately $15.8 million. A “yes” vote on this question means that you affirm the Council’s vote to fund the Library expansion and renovation project and want the project to continue. A “no” vote means that you reject the Council’s vote to fund the Library expansion and renovation project and do not want the project to continue.

Editors’ Note

Check out our new pages under the heading, Town Government 101. We aim to collect sources of information on a variety of local efforts, and begin with general resources (if you are new to Amherst, have a look) and resources to help you get and stay up to speed on the four major capital projects, such as video, documents, and other websites. Please let us know if you come across broken links.