Around Amherst: Council president seeks more Fair Share, PILOT funding

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 03-16-2023 10:02 AM

AMHERST — Better funding for roads and education, along with restructuring the payment in lieu of taxes program for state-owned property in Amherst to better account for the impacts of the University of Massachusetts, are among requests Amherst officials are making for next year’s state budget.

At a Joint Ways and Means Committee hearing this week, Town Council President Lynn Griesemer made an appeal directly to state senators and representatives gathered at the UMass Student Union.

Griesemer said 85% of Amherst voters supported the Fair Share Amendment — commonly known as the “millionaires’ tax” — last fall, but that Gov. Maura Healey’s plan for spending the money raised from the new surcharge on the state’s wealthiest would deliver little to Amherst’s municipal government or public schools.

“We’re just asking for our fair share,” Griesemer said.

Healey’s overall budget proposal is a great starting place, she said, but challenges remain. “With a population nearing 40,000, we are caught between large cities and small rural communities,” Griesemer said.

The town’s K-12 population, for instance, is dropping, but is increasingly diverse, with 54% of students nonwhite.

“We’re a minority-majority elementary school district,” Griesemer said, adding that half the students are high needs, 38% are low income and 26% speak a first language other than English.

At the same time, 38% of Amherst’s land is owned by nontaxable higher education institutions. More PILOT money, Griesemer said, could address how the town is affected by hosting a higher education campus with 32,000 students and 9,000 employees who converge on the town, and the impact of activities happening on state-owned land.

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“We request the state complete a review of the state-owned PILOT program with a focus on equity and fairness,” Griesemer said. “We specifically ask that the formula include building values in the calculation.”

Of the town’s 100 miles of road, 46% are rated in very poor or poor condition, and repairs are estimated at more than $49 million. “We simply cannot keep up, and are losing ground — or should we say, losing roads,” Griesemer said.

Griesemer also quipped that Amherst is known as the town where only the H is silent.

“We advocate for what we believe in, we fight for equity and inclusion at al levels, and we pride ourselves on our backbone of education and in offering an incredible public education to all the children in our community,” Griesemer said.

New business signs approved

Amherst Burger Co., which will use grass-fed beef from Echodale Farm in Easthampton and have ice cream from Flayvors of Cook Farm in Hadley, will open at 104 North Pleasant St. this spring.

“It’s going to be a very local farm-to-table burger joint,” said Amherst Business Improvement District Executive Director Gabrielle Gould, who recently presented plans for its signs to the Design Review Board on behalf of restaurant owner Barry Roberts.

The board has also approved new signs for White Lion Brewing, which is planning to take over part of the space at 24 North Pleasant most recently used by High Horse Brewery and Bistro. The main sign, on the second floor of the building, is expected to be similar in size to that for the neighboring The Drake performance venue, while a secondary sign will be at street-level windows.

In other business, the board OK’d a sign for The Spoke Live’s space at the north end of downtown on Pray Street, a sister business to The Spoke bar, while Amherst Market at 259 Triangle St. is being allowed to reface its signs.

Cuppa Joe on school project

Town Manager Paul Bockelman will be joined by Elementary School Building Committee member and District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen March 24 at 8:30 a.m. for the next Cuppa Joe community gathering.

People are invited to the hourlong event, at the Bangs Community Center’s Large Activity Room, to discuss and ask questions about the elementary school building project or other town topics.

Those in need of assistance to attend can send email to townmanager@amherstma.gov or call 259-3002.

Puerto Ricans in the region

“Puerto Ricans Making the Valley Home” is the title of a talk by Maria Cartagena on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Jones Library’s Woodbury Room.

Cartagena will address the migration of Puerto Ricans to Holyoke and other communities and speak to the deep activist history of Puerto Ricans, including for desegregation of schools.

Tea and Conversation

The Amherst Woman’s Club, 35 Triangle St.. resumes its “Tea and Conversation” program Monday at 1:30 p.m. with a discussion about Russia.

“Why is Russia different from Western countries?” is the question that Robert Jones, a professor emeritus at UMass, will discuss. Jones will bring his expertise from 38 years of teaching in the history department, and his experiences living in Russia.

Meetings

THURSDAY: Joint Capital Planning Committee, 1 p.m., and Zoning Board of Appeals, 6 p.m.

FRIDAY: Local Historic District Commission, 2:30 p.m.

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