Amherst Town Council, Finance Committee address budget allocations

May 23, 2023 | Bill Zito

AMHERST — The Town Council and Finance Committee met on May 15 with discussions and proposals, among them, issues concerning allocations for the Amherst Police Department and Community Responders for Equity Safety and Service.

Finance Director Sean Mangano first offered an abbreviated briefing of the fiscal year 2024 $93.5 million budget proposal, representing a 3.4% increase over the FY23 budget. The full outline had been presented at the May 1 Town Council meeting.

Prior to public comment on budget and finance allocations, Council member Dorothy Pam inquired about having the council address a potential raise in Town Council salary allotments before the end of the session to allow for any increase going forward to be available for any newly elected members. Pam also made a reference to the budgeted childcare reimbursement for councilmembers.

“Putting money in for a babysitting fund is very, very important but once again we did not put in for an increase for the salary or the honorarium, really for Town Council members. And I’m very concerned because in order to recruit a diverse and inclusive group of people we have to change that. Right now, the public sees the unending hours of meetings that town council members have to be in, and it’s never going to be a good time to raise it, it was brought up in the first session, and we were told, too late,” she said.

Council President Lynn Gresemer responded, advising Pam and the council/committee that discussion of the proposal had been delayed within the finance committee while awaiting the potential settlement of teacher and other town contracts. But, Gresemer added, the council is expected to have the discussion in time for a July vote.

During the public hearing on the budget, Allegra Clark, a resident of District 2, asked about the possibility that the council could take action incorporating the Amherst School Committee budget which had included an additional $84,000, with the idea of potentially save some elementary school positions. Clark, a member of the Community Safety and Social Justice Committee also asked about additional funding for CRESS as opposed to the allocations proposed for the Police Department.

“My hope is as we see how they [CRESS] continue to grow and shine, that we will be able to reallocate funding from the Police Department to the CRESS department and we are requesting that be done to the tune of 47% of the personnel budget of the Amherst Police Department,” Clark said, calling CRESS a useful public service.

Mirroring Clark’s position, District 5 resident Zoe Crabtree also asked the council to move money away from the Police Department budget in favor of CRESS as well as the Department of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Crabtree referred to prior proposals by the Community Safety Working Group.

“I urge the council and the town manager to embrace the CSWG’s full slate of recommendations which have also been endorsed by the CSSJC and I ask that you please follow through on the promises you all made in 2020 and move Amherst towards anti-racist action and to cut the APD’s budget in half,” she concluded.

Another resident offering comment during the public hearing suggested funding for youth empowerment without making cuts to the police budget.

During the public hearing on the FY24 Capital Improvement Program, Finance Director Mangano offered the overview including the allocation increases to 10.5% of the levy, which incorporates plans for four building projects and the town’s historic road and sidewalk investment. he program would address as well, deferred maintenance of existing infrastructure while considering the impacts on climate change.

With no public comment or rebuttal offered on the Capital Improvement Program, the finance committee adjourned making way for the Town Council meeting.

The Finance Committee is expected to offer proposals on the budget in Town Council meetings going forward.

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