Daily Hampshire Gazette, Thursday September 20, 2007
College chief calls for growth Amherst president: Woo more business
By KRISTIN PALPINI Staff Writer
AMHERST - For the second year in a row, Amherst College President Anthony W. Marx used his address at the college's community lunch to ask town leaders to support the public school system by bringing in more business.
Economic growth in Amherst brings revenue to the town - and thus better services for residents. To boost the business community, Marx suggested changes in zoning bylaws.
Marx has made this suggestion before.
"We've not gotten as far in a year as we should be," Marx said before an audience of about 60 Amherst Select Board members, school officials, college administrators and media representatives Wednesday afternoon.
Amherst's problem, Marx said, is a lack of revenue. For the past several years, Amherst has had to contend with tight budgets that forced officials to make cuts to community services.
Town Administrator Laurence Shaffer, who was present, agreed with Marx and added that Amherst officials continue to look for new revenue sources.
"It's very good and important to hear this opinion," said Shaffer. "There's no question we have a structural deficit and we need to continue to work hard to change that."
Shaffer said the town is seeking to expand its tax base. Also, the state needs to increase its contribution to Amherst, he said.
State lawmakers reduced financial support to the commonwealth's 351 municipalities in early 2000. Communities across the state are still struggling to rebound from the loss in revenues.
Marx expressed particular concern, as a parent of an Amherst public school student and as an employer, for how the town's lack of funds is affecting the school system.
"Every year I hear the public school administrators saying that the school is now cutting into bone, and that's scary as a parent to hear and it's scary as a business leader to hear because I have to attract people to live here," Marx said.
For years, Marx could trumpet the Amherst public school system to potential employees as a reason for them to take a job at the college and move to town. But with increased cuts to school programs, he said it is becoming harder to make this claim. Over the past several years, the town has had to cut school services, including many of its summer programs, and eliminate jobs to cover the drop in state aid.
"If the school system is in jeopardy, the community is in jeopardy," Marx said.
To bring in additional businesses, Amherst has to change its zoning bylaws, Marx said. Zoning districts should also be changed to allow a mix of residential and commercial establishments in the downtown area. This would usher in a "vibrant" community feeling, he said.
"I worry when I hear people saying, 'If you want to go out to get a good meal and take a walk and feel like you're in an exciting environment, then you drive to Northampton,'" Marx said. "I want Amherst to be more a destination than it is."
Amherst is working on its zoning bylaws. A proposed master plan that features recommendations for denser development, a mix of housing and an improved business climate is due to be presented to the public Sept. 27. The plan is accessible on the town's Web site, www.amherstma.gov.
"He's right. We haven't made any substantial progress in the last year," said Selectman Alisa Brewer, who attended the event. "Zoning is the big thing, but I think we'll see some changes there soon."
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