Monday, November 5, 2007

History, unfortunately, repeats itself.

A “a fed up taxpayer” anonymously mailed me the three-year agreement between Amherst and Umass circa 1995 with the observation that it was a better pact for the town than the one Town Manager Shaffer is currently crowing about.

My anonymous friend multiplies the $6 for each student by 20,000 rather than the 11,000 it actually covered (“student resident of University owned housing") and also multiplied $50,000 in “economic development and planning services” by three when in fact that amount was the total maximum for all three years combined.

So they came up with $510,000 when in fact the total was about half that. And what really brought Umass to the bargaining table in the first place was the fear of a lawsuit over $203,000 in misrouted moving violations money the Northampton Court Clerk had accidentally sent to Umass rather than Amherst over a ten year period.

Umass said they had already spent the money on student scholarships. I said it doesn’t matter if you used it to save the whales or cure cancer; it was not your money and please give it back (with interest).

So I filed a warrant article with Town Meeting calling for them to immediately suit the University to recover the money. And, amazingly, it passed. Umass came calling the very next day.

But Selectman Hill Boss and Town Manager Barry Del Castilho got taken to the cleaners by Umass negotiators (in a series of meetings at Hill Boss’s private home that the DA declared “violated the spirit of the Open Meeting Law)”, flushing away the $200,000 lawsuit that a judge already said was the town’s money for $50,000 in trade (something we probably could have gotten out of a Grad Student for free anyway).

But the $66,000 in ambulance money was new, although we postponed pursuing the Hotel/Motel tax on the Campus Center Hotel (estimated value $50,000 to $75,000) and to “confine differential in water rates to 20 cents per 100 cubic feet.”

In a later agreement the differential went away completely; but if our Water Commissioners simply reinstituted that 20 cent difference at tonight’s Select board meeting it would cost Umass about $75,000.

And of course there was much talk about Umass helping to advocate for an “equitable” PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes). All talk and no action.

Today’s PILOT formulae is the same as it was ten years ago, repaying towns with state property simply by the square mile with no difference between the Wendell State Forest and a densely populated areas like Umass.

This one-page pact certainly demonstrates how easily Umass, in the current “strategic agreement”, built on its previous outmaneuvering of Amherst Town officials.