Thursday, September 20, 2007

FY09 Priorities

from Irwin S, handed out at Select Board Priorities Public Hearing Thursday September 20, 2007, and available at

FY09 Priorities

Sent: Thursday, September 20, 2007 6:30:20 PM
To: Select Board
Subject: FY 09 budget guidelines

Dear Select Board:

I am finding it inordinately difficult to know how to respond to your invitation for public comment. I would expect -- in fact, I would hope -- that comments from Town Meeting members and others who have been closely involved with budget struggles for some time would differ significantly from the comments offered by members of the public who have not been paying much attention and will primarily voice personal wishes. And while that is natural, I am concerned about the comparative weight you may be inclined to give to each. Moreover, since the number of closely involved citizens is inevitably smaller than the general public, the potential danger exists that taking primarily personal requests and demands out of the overall context of our current situation may further jeopardize adequate funding for our core services. I do hope that you will not allow that to happen.

I'm not suggesting that nothing but the "core" matters. What I am suggesting is that adequate, even minimal, support for the "core" should not be reduced to fund other programs and services we treasure, when we may not be able to afford these to the extent we have in the past.

Here's my view of the "core":

1. Public Safety:

The Police Department must have the two officers and support staff restored. The officers: Please remember the Police Chief's plea that these cuts would be "devastating," and be aware that he has consistently understated, not dramatized, the needs for his department. I have never heard him use such language before. I think that the Town Manager fully understands, but in his budget strategy last year misjudged the political reaction to his proposal. Please encourage his support of staffing in both public safety departments in your guidelines; for FY 09, that primarily applies to Police, since the Fire Department lost no positions this year.

Support staff: Right now, the Police Chief has no secretary, and his payroll is being done in Town Hall, whose Finance Department just lost another full-time position, in addition to staff cuts in that department in prior years.

Point of information and perspective: As newer members may not be aware, hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment acquisition by a variety of departments have been saved over the years thanks to the Police Department's initiative to procure quality used vehicles for the Town from auctions and other sources .

2. General Government

This is the area utterly taken for granted, and often the first one targeted for cuts that are assumed to be inconsequential. Of course, it is easy to understand why the public would be unaware of what people do in the back offices on the first floor of Town Hall: Most are largely invisible and unknown. And yet, they are the ones who project, collect, invest, manage, and account for our resources, to the tune of between $60 and $70 million a year. Together, the staff of the first floor in a way keeps the Town running and on an even keel. The public cannot be expected to understand the inner workings of these departments; but the Select Board should articulate to the Town Manager their awareness of the importance of having these services rendered well; support the restoration of positions like the one currently lost in the Finance Department; and resist any further reductions in support, in the interest of ensuring that the small number of employees charged with providing these essential services are not overtaxed to the point where the quality of their work may be compromised, or good people become too discouraged and overstressed to continue to work for the Town.

3. DPW: It is ironic that this may well be the department uppermost in the public's sense of services they depend on: whether they complain of potholes or want traffic-calming devices installed, or lines painted, or sidewalks repaired or plowed, it's all the job of -- or one more job for -- the DPW. Highways, trees, cemeteries, sewers, drinking water -- people know about and depend on all of them. And yet the budget for this department is one of the leanest in town, and has been for years, thanks to the good management and ingenuity and willingness-to-make-do of the Superintendent. So when Guilford Mooring indicates that his resources are stretched to the limit, as he did to the Finance Committee last spring, I would urge the Select Board to take that into serious account in their guidelines to the Town Manager. He should be asked to review thorougly, as he makes his budget recommendations for that department, what it is possible for the department to do, and what is being neglected, because of inadequate resources.

I will not attempt to prioritize the rest of the services we provide.
I deeply appreciate them all and want to see them preserved and fostered to the extent possible. I do think the guiding criterion needs to be the extent to which they are considered to be municipal functions or responsibilities.

But the three above I think should be basic in your guidelines to the Town Manager. I know you won't all agree, but I hope some of you will.

As to the envisioned economic development director: I continue to think that is an excellent idea, depending on how the financial situation evolves.

In any case, I hope you will instruct the Town Manager that, in building his budget, he should assume a) no use of reserves and b) the use of no less than 8% of the levy for capital expenditures in FY 09, with a multi-year goal of increasing that to about 10% of the levy.

Thanks for reading.

Eva S

FY09 Priorities

Sent: Thursday, September 20, 2007 3:47:17 PM
To: Select Board

I like these. I found it helpful to strip out the philosophy and focus on the specific suggestions, so I edited them to do that. In case it helps you, too, here's the "abridged" version.

Andy C

Bryan H’s budget suggestions

1. Ask the Manager to present his recommendations in a way that provides clear programmatic implications (not just financial amounts) for different funding levels.

2. Ask the Manager to set his priorities in light of the town's obligations vs. its choices. The town and only the town can provide police and fire protection, discharge the municipal corporation's fiduciary responsibilities to taxpayers and bondholders, satisfy statutory requirements relating to public health, and so forth. It would be very helpful if the Manager
annotated his budget recommendation in a way that relates these obligations to actual expenditures.

3. For discretionary expenditures, ask the Manager to give the highest priority to activities that fall the closest to the set of services that citizens customarily associate with local government. Some examples of common expectations might be many aspects of library services (albeit not in the Manager's purview), programs for seniors, and recreation programs for kids. Urge that there be clarity in the Manager's budget about what kinds of expectations we are trying (and not trying) to meet.

4. Ask the Manager to give special attention to the necessary but unglamorous components of the municipal budget. If the Selectboard is not "the constituency" for these activities, then I do not know who is.

5. Focus on the reasoning behind and criteria for the decisions the Manager will make, not what outcome you want to see.

6. Ask the Manager to organize his budget proposal in terms of the most significant challenge facing our community's ability to meet the needs of our citizens now and in the future: broadening the revenue base so as to minimize the reductions in services with which we are currently grappling, and will surely grapple for years to come. Much discussion has already been devoted to this topic, but the Manager's budget must reflect the urgency of that task.

FY09 Priorities

Sent: Thursday, September 20, 2007 12:08:40 PM
To: Select Board
Subject: Matching resources with needs and values

Dear members of the Amherst Select Board,

Thank you for the opportunity to weigh in on a conversation that needs to happen with members of our community.

Hilda and I came to Amherst to be near our family at a time in our life to share our "golden years", with family and new friends in an environment that was conducive to continued learning and the opportunity to be a part of a challenging vital town.

We were not dissapointed.

It was amazing in the ten years we had together... to feel we are a part of Amherst.

Hilda was an important part of the Town's committee to address the needs of human services. And now thanks to you folks, I will continue her work for parity, fairness and justice.

I would like to call your attention to my interview with Larry Shaffer on ACTV Conversations, on September 12, 2007.

Larry addressed the Select Board's concerns to explore new ways to address...matching recources with needs and values. Copies of that program will be made available to the Board. I request that it be made a part of the record of tonight's proceedings.

Mr Shaffer's interview will continue to be aired on ACTV to enhance wide distribution to members of the

I look forward to enabling other voices in the community to join in discussion. Pleased to be a part of ACTV to make those voices heard.

Isaac B

cc Larry Shaffer

FY09 Priorities

from Paulette B & H Oldham B

Amherst & Amherst College

Daily Hampshire Gazette, Thursday September 20, 2007

College chief calls for growth Amherst president: Woo more business

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,

"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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