Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Trying to figure out what we CAN do re: Municipal Aid

"We can no longer afford for-profit health care in this state," said Randy Phillis, a faculty member of the biology department at UMass Amherst. "It is literally sucking the life out of all of us and it is a huge waste of money."

Published on GazetteNET (http://www.gazettenet.com)
Source URL: http://www.gazettenet.com/2010/05/18/lawmakers-see-no-chance-reversing-state-aid-cuts
Lawmakers see no chance of reversing state aid cuts
By Owen Boss  Created 05/18/2010 - 04:17

NORTHAMPTON - Supporters of a Proposition 2½ override seeking a boost in state aid to cities and towns got little encouragement from area legislators at a meeting Monday night.
More than 60 people turned out for the meeting, which was sponsored by Yes!Northampton, a nonprofit group that emerged in support of recent Proposition 2½ overrides in the city, at the Community Room at JFK Middle School. Many called on Sen. Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, and Rep. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, to support bills that would restore the state tax rate on income and dividends to 12 percent, while exempting income of seniors, a plan members said would generate an estimated $500 million a year, almost exclusively from those at the top 5 percent of Massachusetts earners.

Although both Rosenberg and Kocot said that kind of legislation would help ease budget shortfalls on cities and towns statewide, they said the idea was not realistic given the commonwealth's current political climate. Kocot said the current budget crisis is bigger than any other in the recent past.

"The last two recessions, which were both described as the worst recessions since the Great Depression, lasted four and five years respectively and during those two recessions we had between a $4 billion and $6 billion problem," Kocot said. "Last year alone we dealt with a $5 billion gap and over the 22 months since the beginning of this recession, we've had a $9 billion problem to solve. This is beyond anything that we have ever faced."

Before passing out a documented roll call vote showing that only nine of 160 House member supported legislation to restore the tax rate to 12 percent, Kocot explained how legislators bridged a $5 billion budget gap in last year's budget and how they plan to close an estimated $2.7 billion in the upcoming fiscal year.

"I don't want to raise anyone's taxes. That is not the fun part of my job. But clearly, every community has needs and we need to raise additional revenues just to fund the basic services that we offer," Kocot said. "Clearly, 9/11, the meltdown on Wall Street, the wars that we have been waging in Afghanistan and Iraq have all diverted a great amount of revenue from this community and from the commonwealth."

Rosenberg shared Kocot's belief that an income tax increase would be extremely difficult to pass in the state Senate and referenced a similar vote this year to restore the state income tax to 5.7 percent.

"We had 11 out of 40 senators who voted in favor of that bill," Rosenberg said. "So the analysis that Peter gave you is a essentially consistent with what happened in the Senate and with what we can conceive happening going forward."

Rosenberg also mentioned that many state senators have vowed not to vote for new taxes in the 90 days remaining in the current term and others have said they won't vote for new taxes until the debate surrounding expanded gaming in the commonwealth is resolved.

"The problem there is that expanded gaming, if it passes, would mean we would see revenue 18 to 24 months down the road at a minimum," Rosenberg said. "Casinos or slot machines at race tracks are not going to save our hides for Fiscal '11 and the revenues they would generate would barely be visible on the budget for Fiscal '12."

Another problem with passing the legislation in time for this year's budget, Rosenberg said, is that the Senate can't enact new taxes or tax increases because the House didn't address taxes, and "all money bills and revenue bills by law have to start in the House."

Mayor Clare Higgins praised Kocot's and Rosenberg's efforts to limit reductions in state aid but drew applause from the crowd when she said not enough has been accomplished with the city facing a $480,000 cut in state aid.

"We all have to take it upon ourselves to call our state legislators and to ask them to look at how we do this because I think the whole system is fundamentally broken and I don't think it works anymore." Higgins said. "The amount of state revenue that comes back to us doesn't cover the base-line costs for things people expect to get on a local level, including street lighting, street paving, education and public safety. We can't afford to do all of those things with the amount of money coming in."

Other ideas raised at the meeting included eliminating the sales tax exemption on candy, soda, which could generate an estimated $51.7 million annually for public health programs; ending the tax exemption on cigars, smoking and smokeless tobacco; and taxing revenues generated at hospitals statewide.

"We can no longer afford for-profit health care in this state," said Randy Phillis, a faculty member of the biology department at UMass Amherst. "It is literally sucking the life out of all of us and it is a huge waste of money."

Owen Boss can be reached at oboss@gazettenet.com
Daily Hampshire Gazette © 2010 All rights reserved

Photos here:

I can't find Yes!Northampton's url for some silly reason (voteyesnorthampton.org dead), but here's the Amherst:

Published on GazetteNET (http://www.gazettenet.com)
Source URL: http://www.gazettenet.com/2010/05/15/residents-have-say-over-state039s-budget-priorities

Northampton residents to have say over state's budget priorities
By Chad Cain Created 05/15/2010 - 05:00

NORTHAMPTON - Most of Hampshire County's state legislators will pay a visit to Paradise City Monday to discuss the state budget crisis and outline steps they are taking to help communities through one of the most difficult financial times in years.
Sen. Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, and Reps. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, and Ellen Story, D-Amherst, will talk about the budget and its impact on Northampton and Amherst. They also will detail solutions that exist at the state level and tout initiatives that they have put forward.

Yes!Northampton and Yes for Amherst, two fledgling groups that emerged in support of recent Proposition 2½ overrides in their communities, are sponsoring the 90-minute discussion that begins at 7 p.m. in the JFK Middle School Community Room. Northampton Mayor Clare Higgins and other elected officials will also attend.

The Yes groups are following through on promises to continue to fight to attain revenue from state and federal resources following the successful passage of overrides. They are working with One Massachusetts to develop a statewide campaign that has pushed for revenue-raising legislation that's currently being debated on Beacon Hill.

"We're really excited about this meeting," said Pamela Schwartz, a co-founder of Yes!Northampton and Ward 4 city councilor. "The answers lay beyond Northampton's borders. Our aim is to support and encourage our local legislators as they push forward on this agenda."

The meeting comes just a few days before Higgins is expected to unveil the city's fiscal 2011 budget and on the heels of a state budget approved by the House earlier this month that slices local aid to municipalities by 4 percent.

That projected cut, if it comes to fruition, would continue an eight-year trend in dwindling local aid, which in turn has forced municipalities to rely more heavily on property taxes to provide public services like education and public safety.

Schwartz notes that even though cities and towns have done all they can to balance budgets, such as raising property taxes and cutting services, not all hope is lost, especially at the state level.

A series of tax proposals being debated on Beacon Hill could make a significant difference for municipalities across the state without placing an undue burden on people who can't afford it, she said.

The package, co-sponsored by Kocot and supported by Story, includes restoring the tax rate on income and dividends to 12 percent, while exempting income of seniors. This would generate an estimated $500 million a year, almost exclusively from those at the top 5 percent of Massachusetts earners.

The proposal was overwhelmingly defeated in the House earlier this month.

Another proposal calls for eliminating the sales tax exemption on candy and soda. This would generate an estimated $51.7 million annually for public health programs. Another $15 million could come from ending the tax exemption on cigars, smoking and smokeless tobacco.

Other proposals seek legislators to re-evaluate tax breaks that would yield $84.5 million for the state. Those ideas include capping the film credit tax for one year for a $75 million savings; limiting life sciences tax credits for another $5 million; and repealing the sales tax exemption on purchases of aircraft for $4.2 million.

"There is still time to make real tax reform at a state level that can save us from local aid cuts," said Schwartz.

The meeting will also outline longer-term strategies for preventing additional state cuts to local aid in the coming years.

Yes!Northampton and Yes for Amherst view this gathering as the start of a multi-year campaign for fair tax reform that will collect adequate revenue and the protect their communities from further cuts.

Chad Cain can be reached at ccain@gazettenet.com [1].
Daily Hampshire Gazette © 2010 All rights reserved

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Article 16 Patterson Property – Option Agreement

As I just wrote to a friend:

If you happened to enjoy the Select Board meeting of April 26, you may have noticed we asked for more information on the Patterson project based on the variety of questions and concerns expressed in multiple venues, and we were promised we'd have it in our packets for our Monday May 3 Select Board meeting because Town Counsel was providing it to Shaffer by the end of the week.  Our packets arrived via US mail today, and mine has nothing about the Patterson property in it other than the press release, Town Meeting mailing, and a map.  I just called Shaffer and he said he'd get it to us Monday.

Although it was probably clear from the April 26 meeting that I've been working under the assumption that I'd recommend we pursue this project at this time, I can't give you any more reasons to do so yet.  So stay tuned.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Roundabout for Eastman Ln/North Pleasant St -- May 4, 2010 Hearing

Updates: Charlie Moran of Public Works Committee reminds me that *ours* is a ONE lane roundabout, so even easier!  And Guilford pointed out these are UMass' materials, not from our Amherst DPW. avb

From: Alisa Brewer
Sent: Monday, April 26, 2010 2:12:56 PM
To: Mooring, Guilford
Cc: Select Board; Stephen Braun; Crowner, Rob; Charlie Moran
Subject: Roundabout Additional Handouts beyond the Excellent DPW Materials re: Eastman Ln North Pleasant St intersection May 4, 2010 hearing
Auto forwarded by a Rule
Hi Guilford!
Beyond the excellent DPW materials for Eastman Ln / N Pleasant St 
Intersection > Conceptual Plans and Comments here:
*I* find the two attachments from:
to also be very useful...I had no experience with rotaries 'til I moved to MA, and seeing even more distinct differences between the rotary and the roundabout (and the traffic circle!) than is already described in the excellent powerpoint on the project website was  really helpful to me.  So you may want to have copies made for the hearing on May 4, and add them to the project website, too.
I'm just sayin'
Take care,
whose menagerie includes an impatient adult bicyclist trying to get to UMass, a 77 year old mother-in-law, and a 16 year old learner's permit-holding son within a block of this intersection:-)

Amherst Police Department Blog: Amherst Police Department Open House

Amherst Police Department Blog: Amherst Police Department Open House Downtown Saturday May 22nd 10 am - 2 pm

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lights Up! Check it out!

Check out Riverwolf Production's newest: Lights Up! In the Valley -- available at Livestream & soon On Demand at ACTV! I was of course at Select Board last night, but I heard the premiere went out on many local cable stations, not just in Amherst.

Remember this is not a school-sponsored event, and is done entirely on the kids own time -- most are tenth graders, and all of them participate in some combination of music ensembles, dramatic performances throughout the valley, part time jobs, and a variety of sports at the same time! And in case you wondered, I am unaware of *any* adults having any input to any of the decisions made by these amazingly talented students -- aside from suggesting they add caption/lyric to the beginning of the closing song, so us old people could hear all the words:-) -- thanks!!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

TONIGHT! ARMS Library: Middle School Principal Finalists Public Forums April 1, 2010 start 6:30

Note the update: the third, Goodhind, dropped out Wednesday. The first set of info below is from the ARHS website, then some links from my Googling:-) I'm sorry I don't have anything to link to for Michael Hayes beyond what's on the ARHS Middle School Principal Search pages.

The public forums will be held in the Middle School library on the evening of April 1 at the following times:
Karsten Schlenter 6:30 - 7:15 p.m.
Michael Hayes 7:15 - 8:00 p.m.
We invite all members of the community to attend the forums and provide input into this very important decision for our school district.
For more information about the search

My brief Google of Karsten Schlenter of Swan Valley Middle School provided his detailed website & P.R.I.D.E.

Note this section that addresses why Michigan -> Massachusetts:
What happened to school funding in Michigan?
The following web cast explains what has occurred since 1994, when a proposal was approved by the voters (Proposal A) that shifted the primary source of school funding from property taxes (at the local level) to sales taxes (at the state level).
This web cast addresses in detail why most school districts in the state are currently experiencing severe financial hardships and are being forced to make major cuts.
This web cast does take several minutes to download and is about 16 minutes in length.
Why is this important?
Since I am currently employed in a smaller size school district, I have the least seniority in my small administrative bargaining unit and therefore fear potential lay offs in the future. I have genuinely enjoyed working for the Swan Valley School District for the past 9 years. However, as a father of 3 children I can't take such a risk at this stage of my career.

and some other positions he's seeking:
McCall Middle School, Winchester, MA
Winchester update
: failed search
Frederick H Tuttle Middle School, South Burlington, VT
South Burlington process

Monday, March 22, 2010

TONIGHT! Sixth Grade Families Orientation at Middle School

We're to arrive at 6:45 for 7:00 start! Program scheduled for 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm

Sixth grade families are reminded that the Middle School will be holding an orientation session this evening for parents/guardians, beginning at 7:00 pm. Please plan to attend so you can hear about all the great things in store for your rising 7th grader!

(yes, this is the one from Feb 24 where we got snowed out!)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

School Committee Candidates: Five Candidates, Two Seats, Two Votes

Thursday, March 11th, noon - 1 pm, Middle School: Amherst Regional Middle School (ARMS) Family-School Partnership hosts Brown Bag Lunch with all five candidates

Thursday, March 11th, 7 pm coffee, program begins promptly 7:30 pm - 9 pm, Middle School Auditorium: League of Women Voters Amherst asks all town-wide office candidates to respond to a series of questions, including some submitted by audience members. On ACTV live Channel 17 & repeats.

and more places on ACTV Channel 12 to listen/view the School Committee candidates:

"Student News Special" taped 03-04-10 starts broadcasting Monday March 8 at 7 pm.
(three candidates of five; *seven* questions -- which is way more than the LWV forum does)
& hopefully soon on demand

plus a 30-minute-per-candidate interview with Isaac BenEzra, Conversations, usually Wednesdays at 7 pm (the ACTV site doesn't yet list these specifically)

Candidate websites, listed in order they appear on the Tuesday March 23 Ballot:

Kathleen Dequence Anderson
Ernest J. Dalkas (no website found)
Robert A. Spence
Richard Blake Hood
Vincent J. O'Connor (no website found)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Nominate the Amherst Town Common as one of 1,000 Great Places in MA

The Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism (MOTT) has established a website to accept nominations from the public for 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts.  All Great Places that are nominated must be open and available to the public. Only one 50-word nomination per person is accepted, and you have to give them an email address in order to nominate someplace.Nomination period closes April 1, 2010. The Commission will meet later that month to draw up a final list, which will be announced in May.

I nominated the Amherst Town Common under the last category, something like "Other" :-)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Speak now re: Override Question on the March 23, 2010 Ballot

BCG's February 10, 2010 recommendation to the Select Board:  
Shall the Town of Amherst be allowed to assess an additional $1,765,441 in real estate and personal property taxes for the purposes of funding the following expenses: Town Operating Budget ($537,252), Elementary Schools Operating Budget ($400,000), Regional School District Assessment ($739,195), and Libraries Operating Budget ($88,994) for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2010?  
So for those of you who didn't notice me mentioning this at the Monday Feb 8, 2010 Select Board meeting: If you have an opinion on the March 23 ballot question itself, speak now via email to selectboard@amherstma.gov -- we're signing off on the language tomorrow morning Friday Feb 12, 2010 at an 8:30 am meeting at which there will be no time set aside for public comment.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Four Towns Meeting this Sat Feb 6, 2010 9:00 am ARMS Lib

Four-Towns Meeting

Saturday, February 6, 2010
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Amherst Regional Middle School Library

Welcome and Introductions

Reports from Boston—Senator Stan Rosenberg  (and Rep Story may attend, while Rep Kulik has a prior engagement)

Updated Revenue Assumptions and Budget Projections
State Funding
Use of E&D Funding
Use of School Choice Funding

Potential Cuts to Level Services in the FY2011 Budget

Assessments to Member Towns
FY2011 Scenarios
Projected Member Town Assessment % for FY11-16 

Guidance from Member Towns
Assessments & Budget Support

Town Meeting Calendar
Warrant Articles Due Dates