Committee weighs in on proposed budget

The Amherst Ways and Means Committee (W&M) is called upon to examine and provide an outside report on all planned appropriations and finances of the town.

To do so, W&M has spent the last several months reviewing records of the town’s revenues and expenditures. Additionally, our members interviewed the head of each town department to inquire into the details of planned fiscal 2018 expenditures and proposed initiatives. Thereafter, we conducted a line-by-line comparison of the town’s overall proposed budged for FY18 with actual spending over the past several years.

This level of detailed attention cannot be expected from every Amherst voter, so W&M members agree to perform it and to make our conclusions available to the voters to help them in making informed decisions.

The short answer: W&M agrees with the BOS’s proposed FY18 budget, with some exceptions:

? Police Department – This was the most seriously contested issue between W&M and the BOS. The Amherst Police Department requested the BOS approve the addition of a patrol officer to the town’s Police Department to help improve the service that the Police Department provides to the town. The BOS approved adding a new police officer, which will cost the taxpayers an additional $85,000 a year, every year.

W&M unanimously disagrees, and does not recommend the addition of a new officer this year. Based on our study of Amherst crime data, W&M does not see a need for additional patrol coverage.

Furthermore, the new officer would be used to provide three-car coverage on certain second and third shifts where two-cars currently patrol. (Amherst PD currently provides three-car coverage 65 percent of the time; adding another patrol officer would enable three-car coverage about 90 percent of the time.) Chief Reams is clear that the request to add another officer this year (and possibly another one next year) is not being driven by an increase in Amherst crime rates, but is a service level issue.

We understand Chief Reams’ desire to work toward three-car coverage all shifts on all days, but it is not clear to W&M that the benefit to the residents is worth the cost. The Police Department represents one-sixth of the town budget. W&M believes that permanently increasing the size of the force must be tied to benefits for the residents that are commensurate with the increased costs to the taxpayers.

– Department of Public Works – The DPW requested an additional $200,000 be added to the road maintenance budget. After initially approving this request, the BOS denied it. W&M believes that this is short sighted. The DPW road maintenance budget has been historically underfunded. The need to perform – and pay for – significant “catch up” work on our roads is what led to the current $15 million road bond. The road bond looks like it will be able to finance reconstruction in FY18 and will be completely spent sometime in FY19, leaving only the road maintenance budget available to continue improving Amherst’s roads.

Over the past few years, road reconstruction has been funded by approximately $2 million of road bond money each year, along with the road maintenance budget (ranging from $600,000 to $980,000 – its current level). Without a new road bond (for which there appears to be very little enthusiasm), Amherst will have only the road maintenance budget available to continue the good work on our roads. W&M believes that increasing the road maintenance budget over the next few years is prudent, so that when the road bond funds are spent, the maintenance budget is at least adequate to keep Amherst roads at their current quality level, and not begin gradual deterioration – again.

– Library – The library has an annual budget of just under $1 million. W&M believes that the library is more than adequately funded within the current budget, and that any additional non-itemized supplemental funds the library requests (less than 1 percent of the proposed budget) can be provided from within their current budget without the need to seek more money from the town.

In all other respects, W&M applauds all town department heads, the town administrator and the BOS members for their hard work. The proposed budget is “tight,” and even if the BOS were to restore the $200,000 to the road maintenance budget, the percentage increase in the town budget would still be below last year’s requested increase. Also, the proposed tax impact of all the proposed warrant articles (if all were approved) is significantly less than the tax impact of last year’s proposed warrant articles.

The public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for the BOS meeting on Jan. 9. If you have input you would like to share concerning the proposed budget, please plan to come and speak to the BOS at that time. Once the public hearing is concluded, whatever form the budget has at that time is what will be presented at the Deliberative Session on Feb. 8.

FY18 Amherst Ways & Means Committee

John D’Angelo – Chairman

Jason Lozzi – Secretary

April Savino – Member

Maggie Paul – Member

Peter Moustakis – Member

Sarah Bonnoit – Member

Dan Ferris – Member

David Sullivan – Alternate

Russ Thomas – Alternate