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Transition funding to replace loss of Community Development Block Grant money possibly coming to Amherst

— While not yet official, Amherst could be in line to continue receiving funding from the state’s coveted Community Development Block Grant program even though it is no longer deemed a “mini-entitlement community.”

Town Manager John Musante said Tuesday he believes the worst-case scenario, in which Amherst would lose all of the $900,000 it receives in Community Development Block Grant funding, won’t come to pass.

Instead, Amherst would get so-called transition funding following an appeal to the Department of Housing and Community Development, providing the town about half of the money it has gotten under CDBG.

“That’s better than zero,” Musante said.

This year, the town is using $900,000 in CDBG funds for both social service agencies and for municipal projects that help low-income and disabled residents. These include providing money to fund a portion of the Craig’s Place homeless shelter and reconstruction of a segment of Main Street that improves safety and accessibility.

If the town continues to receive some share of the CDBG money, it will take some pressure off Musante’s fiscal 2014 budget.

The Select Board Monday approved the areas it wants Musante to focus on as he prepares the budget proposal to be released to the board and public Jan. 16.

Maintaining the same level of services offered to residents, while determining how to address the possible loss of the CDBG money, is central to the Select Board’s budget policy guidelines.

Musante said the guidelines are “very helpful, as always.”

“They’ve made a concerted effort to provide the town manager with a big-picture guideline as I consider a budget proposal to them in January,” Musante said.

While areas of the guidelines focus on expense reduction, economic development and sources of new revenue, as they have in previous years, the town losing its status as a mini-entitlement community has a prominent place in the two-page memo.

“It is critical to find a way to continue funding the winter emergency shelter and other human service agency investments, as well as town staff support for these efforts,” the Select Board writes. “This may well be the greatest challenge of the FY14 budget, and we are confident in your ability to find a thoughtful and practical solution.”

At a recent Select Board meeting, several residents appealed to the board and Musante to consider restoring a line item in the municipal budget that would provide taxpayer support to social service agencies. This was removed a few years ago by then-Town Manager Larry Shaffer.

The budget guidelines don’t state specifically how Musante should address the loss of CDBG funding.

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