Vote no on both Warrant Articles 26 and 40 in Amherst

To the Editor:

The current Amherst Cemetery Fields play grounds on Merrimack Road, are to be returned to their original, intended purpose on Sept. 1, for use as an Amherst Public Cemetery, in accordance with a 1999 New Hampshire Superior Court settlement agreed to by the town of Amherst.

Articles 26 and 40 on the Town Warrant to be voted on March 11 would attempt to reverse this process, and keep the current playing field use as is.

Why have these warrants been placed on the ballot, and how do these articles expect to accomplish this? And do these articles represent good public policy and practice by tearing up long-standing agreements for some other purpose?

First the why: Amherst’s serving Cemetery Trustees have voted unanimously to honor the 1999 state Superior Court settlement. The purchase of these fields was completed in 1990 with Cemetery Trust funds, no public tax dollars were used, so the trustees have a fiduciary duty to protect these funds and the land, which is reserved for cemetery use. The Selectmen and other advocates wish to maintain playing fields and divide the land.

Article 40 is to replace the serving Cemetery Trustees by abolishing their positions, and their pesky resolve to abide by the Superior Court settlement, and replace them with the Selectmen, who, presumably, would be more compliant to challenging the 1999 settlement. Article 26 would raise the sum of $180,000 by public taxation to then purchase a portion of the 47 acres for continued playing field use. One wonders how a bereaved family would like driving through a soccer match, but that seems to be the idea. Sounds pretty simple, but it is not.

Regardless of whom the future Cemetery Trustees are, the current trustees or the Selectmen, either would have to follow the exact same process to either buy or sell cemetery land, which trustees have the power to do. Appraisals and surveys would be needed and the filing of a subdivision plan with the Planning Board. A Cy Pres petition would have to be drafted to the circuit court, probate division, and approved by the Trustees of the Trust Funds, and then the state Attorney General’s Office, trust division, renders an opinion if the petition is in the best interest of the Cemetery Trust funds, before the case would be argued before the court by opposing counsel.

And if by some chance the petition is approved, a sale would have to be to the highest bidder, which may or may not be the town. Additionally, current abutters or others may raise their own legal obstacles. All of the above takes time, months and even years is not an exaggeration.

This brief summary of the process that must be followed has multiple costs, and all those attorneys and other fees will be at taxpayers’ expense and nowhere in either Article 26 or 40 is there any provision or even an estimate of these costs. Article 26 and the $180,000 are for land purchase only, and may not be used for other purposes. And who knows if the $180,000 is even close to being the value. We note on page 27 of the Town 2012 Report the value given Cemetery Field is $394,700.

In summary, Articles 26 and 40 is just the tip of a lengthy and much more expensive iceberg than its advocates would have you believe. The lack of a truly honest financial and lengthy process forthright explanation of where these two articles truly lead is a disservice to Amherst’s voters, and emphasizes the last minute expediency and deception of these proposals.

Isn’t it an irony, that the Cemetery Fields long-range anticipation of a future public need, should fall victim to a Board of Selectmen that speaks of the importance of having a “strategic plan” for the town? When given the chance to support a prior board’s long-range 1999 agreement, they don’t.

Please vote no on both Warrant Articles 26 and 40.

 

BILL BELVIN

Amherst Cemetery Trustee