Amherst presents $12.4 million town budget

AMHERST – More sidewalks, mosquito control and a $12.4 million operating budget are part of a proposed town warrant this year.

The budget for fiscal year 2016 is 5.3 percent more than this year’s plan and would add $40 to the tax bill of a typical house.

But at the public hearing last week, the residents who packed the room seemed mostly interested in Article 32, which would grant the Board of Selectmen intervener status in the matter of the natural gas pipeline.

The Kinder Morgan pipeline would go through at least 66 Amherst properties, with final approval coming from state and federal agencies.

Selectmen said legal counsel has recommended the article, saying the town would be taken more seriously by the federal government if its voters give it the status of an intervener, either by itself or with other towns.

Most of the Jan. 12 public hearing, however, was taken up with the budget presentation, and on Wednesday, Feb. 4, it will be voters’ turn to discuss the warrant and possibly make changes at the town Deliberative Session, which starts at 7 p.m. in Souhegan High School.

For the typical house, said to be valued at about $330,000, the operating budget would add about $40.

New initiatives include more professional development for the department heads.

“In the past, department heads often sacrificed” funds for professional development for other purposes, board Chairman Dwight Brew said.

The budget also includes an increase in hourly wages for landfill staff and a wage adjustment for Emergency Medical Services personnel, part of a three-year plan to make their pay more competitive with other towns.

There is money for additional staff to monitor water quality at Baboosic Lake, where milfoil was discovered last year.

The Amherst Town Library budget has extra money for new digital media and more comfortable seating.

One of the charts in the Board of Selectmen’s slide presentation showed Amherst is not far from the bottom of 31 Hillsborough County towns sorted by tax rate, with only five towns having a lower rate.

Helping keep the rate down this year is an increase in revenue from motor vehicle registrations.

One substantial part of the budget is the $1.2 million in principal and interest costs on money borrowed for road work that the town bonded over 10 years.

The Ways and Means Committee supports the operating budget, said co-Chairman Russ Thomas.

More sidewalks

Article 29 is for sidewalks to loop around the Village area, on all or part of Jones, Mack Hill, Boston Post, New Boston and Manchester roads. Most of the money would come from a federal Transportation Alternative program grant, with Amherst paying $65,000 of the $328,000 cost.

There is also a $3.3 million bridge replacement bond for two bridges, the one on Mont Vernon Road over Caesars Brook and the other on Thornton Ferry Road over Beaver Brook. The town, which pays 20 percent of the costs, is unlikely to tap the money for many years, selectmen said, but approval of the warrant article allows it to show the state the town’s intentions. Work on the Manchester Road bridge leading into the village area is scheduled to begin this spring.

There also is a $40,000 article for mosquito surveillance on the warrant, to monitor risk areas and apply larvicide if needed. Chairman Brew showed maps that indicate Amherst, while not a high risk area, is surrounded by towns that are rated high-risk for mosquito-borne diseases.

“The risk is moving toward us,” Selectman Mike Akillian said.

Ways and Means is not recommending this article so far. Thomas said committee members didn’t have enough information.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.