Amherst town budget proposal maintains current services, even after loss of Hadley ambulance contract

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Published: 5/7/2019 11:25:38 PM

AMHERST — A municipal budget that preserves existing town services, and provides money for operations of the new government and labor contracts not yet settled, while eliminating some spending on social services, has been delivered to the Town Council by Town Manager Paul Bockelman.

“It’s not a fancy budget, it just sustains services in our core budget,” Bockelman told the council on Monday.

For fiscal year 2020, Bockelman is proposing a $24.58 million spending plan that is $679,592, or 2.8 percent higher, than the $23.9 million budget approved by Town Meeting last year. No Proposition 2½ override or transfer of free cash is needed to balance the budget.

In a cover memo to his budget, Bockelman wrote, “This budget represents my recommendation to the town for funds needed to deliver superior government services, efficiently and effectively, to the town’s residents, businesses, institutions and visitors. It incorporates the priorities identified by the town’s elected officials as we move forward.”

One of the main spending increases in the budget is $100,000 for the operations of the Town Council, which was inaugurated in December, and includes $5,000 annual salaries for 12 councilors and $7,500 for the president, along with $32,500 for travel, training and attendance at meetings and conferences. This replaces the Select Board budget of $8,000.

The town budget, though, removes $60,000 that had been added for social services spending by Town Meeting the past two years. Last year, members put this money in to help local children, which Bockelman said he expects to go toward ensuring all children can participate in school summer programs and to engage families at the renovated Groff Park. The previous year the money was used for Latino outreach by the Amherst Survival Center.

Bockelman said the major challenge in the budget was $600,000 in lost revenues, combining both patients’ insurance money and an annual contract with Hadley, after Hadley officials entered an arrangement with Action EMS for ambulance service to provide medical care in town.

“We have incorporated that reduction into the budget, which was a challenge for us,” Bockelman said.

To maintain the same level of firefighting and EMT staff, Bockelman used $300,000 from overlay surplus, an account that assessors can dip into when property assessments are challenged and refunds need to be made to property owners.

The budget includes a cushion to cover increased salaries related to new contracts, with five of the six municipal bargaining units having contracts that are continuing to be negotiated. Only the firefighters have a settled contract.

Other changes in the budget include adding $10,000 to the Conservation and Development departments to pay for additional help maintaining conservation trails and for legal ads, and reducing $59,913 from the community services departments, by reorganizing Leisure Services and Supplemental Education and the eliminated social service spending.

The municipal budget is part of a total Amherst budget of $83.45 million, representing an increase of $2.59 million, or 3.2 percent, over the fiscal year 2019 adjusted budget of $80.86 million,

That total budget includes $23.84 for the Amherst elementary schools, $16.44 million for regional schools, and $2.04 million in tax support for the Jones Library, along with $6.4 million for retirement and other Post Employment Benefits and other obligations, and $4.7 million for other assessments.

The capital plan calls for investment of $5.01 million, including $1 million for roads, $200,000 for sidewalks and $20,000 to improve lighting and pedestrian safety.

The town continues to maintain $3.1 million in free cash and $9.4 million in the stabilization account.

The Finance Committee is required to hold a public hearing on the proposed budget. That public hearing is scheduled for May 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Large Activity Room at the Bangs Community Center.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com


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