Amherst endorsing measures to preserve state and federal aid
AMHERST — Amherst’s Select Board is supporting resolutions calling on the state and federal governments to protect aid to cities and towns, provide money for projects to improve roads and the environment and reduce the impacts of benefits accrued by retired employees.
The four measures sponsored by the Massachusetts Municipal Association are expected to be taken up at its annual business meeting Jan. 26 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, part of a two-day conference that begins Jan. 25.
Amherst Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O’Keeffe said a recurring theme of these resolutions is that decisions made at the state and federal level affect expenditures at the local level.
“MMA does any excellent job of taking the pulse of the cites and towns of Massachusetts and crafts resolutions that meet the needs of the cities and towns,” O’Keeffe said.
“Resolution Calling for Solutions to the Transportation Finance Crisis” is the name of the measure seeking support for projects such as paving roads and promoting public transit.
The resolution seeks a stable source of revenue and opposes federal budget cuts to highway and transit programs, as well as to the Chapter 90 local aid program, which funds local roadwork.
Amherst has an estimated $16 million backlog of road repairs, with only about $500,000 coming each year in chapter 90 money.
“We’ve been talking a long time about how underfunded our roads and transportation infrastructure are,” O’Keeffe said.
Town Manager John Musante said he expects state lawmakers to spend significant time discussing this issue, understanding that Gov. Deval Patrick is making it a priority. “This will be a main event in the legislature over the next three to four months,” Musante said.
The second resolution asks for the federal government to continue providing money to local governments.
“If programs are not funded by the feds, we’re left with a gap, or coming up with new funding locally,” O’Keefe said.
Among these programs is Community Development Block Grant, for which Amherst has been receiving between $900,000 and $1 million in recent years as a mini-entitlement community. Though Amherst is losing this status, it still expects to get about half the amount as transition assistance, with the remainder covered in Musante’s budget plan. The third resolution asks to give towns flexibility on the age and years served for those who qualify for post-retirement benefits.
Amherst has projected its liability for Other Post Employment Benefits at $72 million, which it began addressing in the fall by applying $585,342 in state-certified cash reserves, and looks to continue this through Musante’s proposed budget plan, including $300,000 from the water and sewer enterprise funds that would be directed toward this account.
Most cities and towns have traditionally used what is known as a pay-as-you go system, but Amherst is moving toward prefinancing the OPEB account. The MMA is opposing any mandate requiring prefinancing.
Finally, the last resolution asks for a federal partnership to protect the environment. Included in this is a proposed multi-year environmental bond bill to pay for water, sewer and storm water infrastructure improvements.
O’Keeffe said Amherst is supporting this because it will mean a better environment without mandates that will be difficult to fund.