$90.8M plan presented for 4 potential building projects in Amherst

  • The Jones Library in Amherst STAFF FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/18/2021 8:23:29 PM

AMHERST — Residents will need to approve at least one Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion override, and will face a significant increase in annual property taxes if four town buildings are to be constructed and renovated in the coming years.

At a joint meeting of the Town Council and Finance Committee this week, Finance Director Sean Mangano presented a plan for how the town can make a $90.8 million investment toward $151.3 million in building projects.

The four projects are the $36.3 million expansion and renovation of the Jones Library, for which the town is responsible for $15.8 million; a new $80 million elementary school building, for which the town would cover $40 million of the cost; a new $20 million Department of Public Works headquarters; and a new $15 million fire station in South Amherst.

Mangano’s plan would entail a combination of an override and an increasing investment in capital spending; use of money from reserves; and placing a firm cap on the price tags for the buildings.

His projections show there would be an annual increase in taxes of well above $250 for the average single-family home, now assessed at $375,507. The average homeowner’s tax bill this year, which rose by $205, is $8,194.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said setting a cap on what the town can afford is an important aspect of the plan as the first project in the pipeline, the library, is expected to be awarded a Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners construction grant in July.

“The goal of this is to show a plan financially for how it could happen,” Bokelman said.

Trustees for the library have asked the Town Council to vote on the proposed expansion and renovation project by the end of April.

Mangano’s presentation included assumptions that the town will be able to allocate 10% of its budget to capital expenses in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2022, and increase this to 10.5% for the following eight years as the projects get underway and are completed. The town had to reduce its capital spending budget to just 5% of the $56.8 million levy limit this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

By increasing the amount for capital spending, the town would generate $4.6 million in reserves to pay for actual and projected debt related to the projects, while setting aside at least 6% of the budget for other ongoing capital needs, including repairs to existing buildings, maintenance for roads, and equipment for town and school departments.

Mangano also gave councilors projected potential borrowing costs and lengths, such as 2.8% over 20 years for the library, 3 to 4% over 30 years for the school, 3% over 30 years for the DPW and 3.5% over 30 years for the fire station.

For specific impacts on taxpayers, the figures show that the owner of a $250,000 home would see the property tax bill rise between $181.76 and $244.17, while the owner of a $650,000 home would see the annual property tax bill go up at least $472.59 and as much as $634.84.


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