The Town Council must provide leadership in making the choices and that will assure that the town continues to meet residents' needs.
My Select Board and Finance Committee experience has provided me with a deep understanding of Amherst's opportunities and challenges and will enable me to provide continuity to our town operations as our first Town Council is seated.
Protecting Our Quality of Life
Amherst is a community where our children can safely leave home, attend a good school, get a book from a library, participate in exciting and healthy recreation programs, and have neighbors who will be vigilant and supportive. We can take a walk down the street or on a beautiful trail, and find cultural, recreation, and enrichment opportunities for ourselves. When or if we need elderly services, they will be there for us. We rely on the Town to assure that this quality of life is protected for us, our neighbors, and people who will make Amherst their future home
Amherst is a town that works
Our police officers, fire fighters (who are also qualified as EMTs), public health professionals, Senior Center and Leisure Services staff, conservation employees, Public Works Department, and other town staff provide us with the services and programs that make Amherst a great place to live. Our schools are recognized statewide and nationally for their excellence. The Jones Library is an outstanding source for books and so much more. The services and programs we support with our taxes will be determined by budgets adopted by the Town Council with support from volunteer boards and committees.
Our town's services - schools, public safety, roads, etc. - are funded primarily through our property taxes. Our largest employers, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College, and Hampshire College are large land owners that do not pay property tax. The towns financial resources are limited.
We must preserve town services that are essential to the quality of our lives and keep our taxes as low as possible. This can be achieved with appropriate economic development and responsible stewardship, primary obligations of the Town Council. The Council will provide leadership in making those choices and assure that the town continues to meet our needs.
Housing & Neighborhoods
Amherst is a unique place because of our three institutions of higher learning. These institutions bring great value to our town, including jobs, youth, culture, and investment. At the same time they create challenges. We work with the university to assure that its growth does not compromise the very important needs of our residents. There is a student demand for off-campus housing in every community with a major university. As UMass grew, the need for appropriate housing for new employees and students increased.
Demands on our housing supply drive up property values and rents, and make it difficult for families and individuals with low or moderate incomes to live in Amherst. We must assure that need is met in a way that also provides affordable housing for families, promotes diversity, and enhances our neighborhoods. We need to continue to think creatively, collaboratively, and learn from best practices that have been tried by other college towns around the world. A role of the Council is to provide leadership on these issue.
Collaboration & Transparency
Collaboration is essential. There are many stakeholders, each with their own priorities and agendas. We must have processes that enable us to work together to get things done. It is also important that decisions about our town are made in a transparent manner. All residents are entitled to critical information, to ask questions and provide input, to see exactly how decisions are being made, to have the voice heard, and to be involved.
The Council must provide leadership in making the choices to assure that the town continues to meet residents' needs. Our town is facing a number of specific current challenges. I will bring my prior experience in non-profit management and town government to address them.
Implementing the Charter
The first Council elected under the new town Charter will establish policies and procedures that will guide future Councils. The steps that it takes to assure that it is accessible to the public and responsive to Amherst residents will determine whether the expectations of the voters who supported the Charter are fulfilled and address concerns of those voters who opposed its adoption.
Amherst has a backlog of major projects that require attention and significant investment. Two town buildings that require replacement are our very old Central Fire Station and Department of Public Works (DPW) Building. Our Senior Center will not meet the needs of an increasing population of older residents. And our schools and libraries have major needs, as noted in the next sections.
Students are attending school in two buildings that were designed for a different era and do not enhance a 21st century education. These schools have deteriorated and have put the health of many children and school staff at risk. Amherst cannot afford this project without state support. We owe it to present students to do the required maintenance on the current buildings and to replace these buildings as soon as possible.
The Jones Library is a treasure to our community and an anchor in our town center. The building needs substantial repair, is not accessible to people with disabilities, does not have space for current programs and is inefficient and costly to staff. The North Amherst branch is not accessible to people with disabilities and does not have public restrooms. This will require town capital investment and a state library building grant.
Housing costs affect people who live in Amherst, or would like to live here. This affects young families and limits the choices available to them. We need to have a full range of options available in order to have a diverse community. Since I was elected to the Select Board, we maintained our goal to have at least 10% of our rental units affordable for people with low income. We've preserved affordable units at Rolling Green, added Habitat housing, strengthened our inclusionary zoning bylaw, and created a unique tax incentive program. That program led to an agreement that 26 residential rental units at the North Square at the Mill District will be rented in perpetuity to households having an income no greater than 50% of the area median income. A variety of efforts can continue this success.
Town government must be financially responsible with long-term planning to assure we have the resources to provide essential services. The tax burden on individual home owners is already large. The town cannot provide essential services and address the challenges that confront it without making difficult budget choices and increasing revenue. Since property taxes are the town's largest revenue source and we don't want to increase the burden on present tax payers, new development is essential.
Planning & Zoning
We need new development, but do not want to destroy what makes Amherst special. The Charter requires that the Council review the Master Plan adopted in 2010. That plan guides the Planning Board to develop zoning proposals that create new development that is consistent with community values.