Amherst Select Board gives Town Manager John Musante budget guidelines
AMHERST — Protecting existing municipal services, including the overnight winter shelter, promoting economic development to enhance the tax base and supporting housing options for people of all income levels are among objectives to be incorporated in next year’s town budget.
The Select Board last week adopted budget policy guidelines which will direct Town Manager John Musante as he develops a municipal budget to be unveiled in mid-January and brought before Town Meeting in May.
Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O’Keeffe said that the purpose of the document is to ensure that members of the Select Board and Musante are on the same page. “This definitely gives him guidelines for the kind of spending decisions the Select Board is in support of,” O’Keeffe said. As with guidelines from other recent years, they were set based on the fact that revenues are limited.
The guidelines state, “We support maintaining a level services budget to the degree that is possible, while recognizing that there may be opportunities to address key priorities which could justify additional spending.”
The issues surrounding the loss of affordable housing at Echo Village and Rolling Green apartments and the possibility that the value of federal Section 8 vouchers may need to be reduced, which would mean more out-of-pocket expenses for those families living in Amherst, is explicit in the guidelines:
“Increasing the housing supply, especially for those in demographic categories currently being squeezed out, and expanding the tax base to include a higher percentage of commercial property, are high priorities.”
The document also notes that the town is losing its standing as a mini-entitlement community, meaning Amherst no longer automatically qualifies for Community Development Block Grant funding. This prompts the need to find new sources of money to pay for the winter shelter and other social services.
The guidelines cover other topics including the workload for the Department of Public Works, green initiatives such as solar projects that meet the goals of being a sustainable community and financial relationships with the University of Massachusetts and Amherst and Hampshire colleges.
In addition to the budget policy guidelines, Musante, as well as School Superintendent Maria Geryk and Jones Library Director Sharon Sharry, are expected to work within Finance Committee guidelines. That committee’s recommendation is for all budget proposals to have no more than 2.7 percent increases over this year.