Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Reunited!


So South Hadley now has our two highest paid former town officials (each of whom collects $80-K annually in retirement benefits from Amherst taxpayers) in the beefy guise of former Town Manager Barry Del Castilho and School Superintendent Gus Sayer.

Of course Gus retired from Amherst just after an embarrassing inappropriate contact incident at the High School between the new principal (they didn’t do a very extensive background check as he had a pedophile background) and a 15-year old student. Mr. Sayer neglected to file the mandatory form with the state to report the incident and then quickly retired.

And he retired at $103,000 just under Barry’s salary at the time and was replaced by Jere Hochman at $130,000. Then Barry’s ego got all aflutter (because he is after all the Top Dog) so he orchestrated a sweetheart raise in mid-contract while the sensible center Select board was still controlled by Carl Seppala, just before Czar Anne Awad came to her brief reign.

Current Select board member Greeney then filed a Town Meeting advisory article requesting the Select board negate the last-second raise and it passed. The Select board of course declined to roll back his salalary. And then he retired (after sleepwalking thru his last year and taking the last three months off completely) with an even more cushy retirement because of the raise.

Strangely enough, my favorite Barry episode has nothing to do with the always-ailing Cherry Hill Golf Course (now actually doing a little better since Barry left).

In late 1999 he got caught up in the Y2K scare. A couple of Umass secretaries (maybe one was Vinchesi’s) formed an “End Of The World” committee and started making recommendations to stockpile food and water, switch to wood heat, and buy generators.

Barry actually had the town host a public forum (roping the Police and Fire chief into presenting public safely protocols for major incidents) to allow these whackos to rant. And he went so far as to recommend $60,000 to buy a back-up generator for the Bangs Community Center. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and that money was never spent.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I'll Drink To That!


Since the main goal of the Taxpayers for Responsible Change Town Meeting warrant article “strongly urging” the Select board to redo their $500,000 in free gray water to Umass is simply to bring the issue before the general public, last night’s Select board meeting was a resounding success.

And to get an (egotistical) board to vote 3-2 on something that advises them to undo something THEY did is downright historic.

Most interesting disclosure of the 55 minute discussion came from Select Man Anne Awad who stated she was “insulted” that the Town Manager signed the Strategic Agreement (knowing the effluent waiver was an important part) and only gave the Water/Sewer commissions a couple days notice to sign off on the waiver.

And obviously the Town Manager didn’t do his homework on the economic impact of the waiver.

Did his Lordship get testy with me (you know the guy who recently whined I had a “chilling effect” on the operation of his board)? Well…just a little. Select man Greeney was speaking directly to me about figures and when someone is sitting at a head table less than 10 feet away and looking you directly in the eyes it’s hard not to just respond when they are done talking.

But since I did not beg permission of His Lordship to speak he said, “please be quiet”. Hey at least Mr. Weiss didn’t say “shut up.”

And for the next few weeks, neither Stan Gawle nor I will “be quiet”. The Truth Is Out There!

Monday, October 29, 2007

His Lordship's Folly

Select board Chair Gerry Weiss was so proud of himself for championing a Mutual Aid Pact between Amherst and Umass Police Departments, even though most observers considered it a mere formalizing of a relationship going back many years.

Of course Mr Weiss naively hoped the pact would expand overall police presence in the town while reducing overhead to Amherst taxpayers. And, he could use it as an excuse to cut two officers this fiscal year.

But the mutual aid pact is a two-way street. And guess who has provided all the extra aid in the two months since the agreement was signed? Yes, those Amherst officers in riot gear patrolling Umass these past two weeks have cost Amherst taxpayers around $15,000 in overtime.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Gathering Storm...

Town Manager Larry Shaffer
Re: Article #20 Umass effluent waiver

Please consider this confirmation that Taxpayers for Responsible Change--sponsors of this important financial article--will appear before the Select board this Monday night October 29 at 7:20 pm to explain our Town Meeting petition article supported by well-over one hundred Amherst resident/voters.

Since the discussion will get technical, we strongly urge the presence of DPW Chief Guilford Mooring to provide his unbiased expertise on this important matter.

Thank You,

Stan Gawle
Larry Kelley

Cc: Amherst Select Board
Onlyintherepublicofamherst.blogspot.com

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Last House On The Right (leaving Amherst)












Of course if you approach Amherst from the west (Hadley) this shining house on a hill, here is what you see in all her resplendent glory:

A Shocking Revelation

If the most honest guy on the Good Ship Amherst says there were discussions about free electricity from the new Umass Powerplant than it must be true. (Thank God our DPW Chief didn’t defend His Lordship’s goofy position on 9/11).

Of course, now I find it scary that Hilda Greenbaum would be in the loop. Mr. Weiss must have forgotten when he sent that reply all email that this was a BIG SECRET only known to choice insiders.

Now I understand why Umass would dangle that carrot before our novice negotiators. Give us the meat-and-potatoes in this 5-year ‘Strategic Agreement’ and next time maybe we will throw you a (baby) carrot.

But five years from now, with Umass an even larger juggernaut, the no-longer-new Powerplant will be producing less than 80% of the electrical needs of the campus; so why would they divert some juice to Amherst? As Guilford pointed out, they will have to keep their connection to WMECO and will pay dearly for that remaining 20% balance of power required.

And if the Town Manger was so easily beaten up by the school yard bully, having his lunch money stolen, why do we think he will do any better five years from now?

In a message dated 10/24/07 3:54:24 PM, MooringG@amherstma.gov writes:

That is a goal, to get free power from UMass. We have talked about it several times with Larry S. and it was discussed at our level with UMass when Barry was here. A few issues came up.
1. The Waste Water Plant is on town property. If UMass sells, gives or trades electricity to us they become an electrical generation utility. Not just a campus with an electric plant. They would then possibly fall under DTE regulations.
2. We would have to keep our connection to WMECO and there would be an extra fee if we did use WMECO power.
3. Instead of electricity they could give us steam. This would require us to purchase equipment and operate a power generation facility.


Guilford

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy and Elvis Live!

Since His Lordship Gerry Weiss, the highest ranking elected official in the People’s Republic of Amherst, considers 9/11 an inside job it should not surprise me that he also thinks Umass is going to provide the town electricity when the new co-generation Powerplant comes alive this Spring.

Kinda makes you wonder if he even read the overly hyped Umass ‘Strategic Agreement’ before flushing away hundred$ of thousand$ in free fuel for the new Powerplant?

The following exchange occurred this morning on the privately owned Amherst Town Meeting Listserve with about 100 members of the 240 body subscribing. I was given a “time out” last year for a few months for calling former Select board Chair Anne Awad a “czar”.

To: amhersttownmeeting@yahoogroups.com
BUT, how much will the Town save on electric bills when UMass gives us free power off the new plant?? That cost has to be factored into the equation also. Hilda Greenbaum

In a message dated 10/24/07 7:57:49 AM, gerryweiss@comcast.net writes: Excellent point Hilda, thank you.


From: "larry kelley" amherstac@yahoo.com
Article #20. Did His Lordship actually read the Strategic Agreement?

So...the highest-ranking elected official in Amherst actually believes Umass is going to give us “free power off the new plant”? That’s scary, very scary. Somehow I missed that in the “Strategic Agreement.”

Just for the record: the new Powerplant will supply about 80% of the electricity needs of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst; and not one kilowatt to the town. Yikes!


In a message dated 10/24/07 10:06:01 AM, mlwentworth@comcast.net writes:

Larry, There is no excuse for addressing anyone in the way in which you have addressed Gerry. You need to stop lashing out at people when your thinking or your computations are questioned.
Mary Wentworth

From: "larry kelley" amherstac@yahoo.com

Mary, If my sources are correct, Mr. Weiss was recently introduced at a Chamber Of Commerce public event as "Your Lordship."

Larry

FUNNY UPDATE:
In a message dated 10/24/07 10:54:58 AM, greenbau@history.umass.edu writes:

I have heard that UMass. intends to give us power off the plant and that AC is doing likewise. It may not be in THIS agreement since the plant isn't on-line yet. Hilda

My Response (so I guess I have not been given a "Time Out" just yet):
Don’t believe everything you hear. The Powerplant will not satisfy 100% of the energy needs of the campus at current population. So when Umass grows by 5,000 or 10,000 students it will fall even farther behind.

Besides, if they ever did have excess capacity they could easily sell it to the utilities. The chances of Umass giving us electricity in the future are about as likely as the town voting Republican in the next Presidential election.
Larry

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A New Sheriff in the Blogosphere.

The Amherst Police Department, probably realizing the police report in the Amherst Bulletin is a must read, now have their own blog:

http://www.amherstpd.blogspot.com/

So if Umass students should get a tad exuberant over the upcoming World Series, perhaps we will see almost instant video on the site.

A few years back Amherst PD was savvy enough to replay video of a rambunctious Hobart Hoedown for Town Meeting members the week the Public Safety budget came up.

And a cruiser that sustained $10,000 in battle damage was prominently parked in front of the downtown station for about a week.

Perhaps if they had their interactive blog up and running six months ago Town Meeting would not have cut $180,000 from their budget thus sacrificing two officers. Northampton just added five and Umass added two.

Only in Amherst do we cut police while everybody else adds.

Making (effluent) Waves!



Ironically the following statement asking Town Meeting to “strongly urge” the Selectboard to rescind their 9/17 vote to give Umass free effluent was just mailed to all of Town Meeting by the Selectboard office. Taxpayers for Responsible Change had to provide 275 copies but they did the folding, stuffing and paid postage.

This same system calls for the petitioner to appear before the Selectboard to request they support the article in a recommendation to Town Meeting. Hmmm, I know of at least two Selectmen who might do just that.



Town Meeting Article #20
UMass Effluent Water Waiver
Taxpayers for Responsible Change

We are bringing this article before Town meeting because, in our opinion, the Selectboard acted hastily and didn’t have complete financial information when they voted 3-2 to grant the effluent waiver to UMass.

The UMass press release heralding the 5-year Strategic Agreement declared that the effluent water waiver only applied to consumption at the new power plant. Addendum 2 of the Strategic Agreement document, however, states the following in paragraph 4 “The town will allow the University to use, free of charge, effluent from the wastewater treatment plant”

Last year UMass, paid the Town of Amherst $38,000 for 57 million gallons used at the old steam plant for heating. According to UMass engineers the new power plant, which will also produce electricity, will consume 200,000 gallons per day or 73 million gallons annually for a cost of $49,000.

The new Integrated Science Building opening this Spring has a Cooling Tower Unit immediately adjacent to it with a rated effluent consumption of about 80% of the power plant, or about 58 million gallons for an additional cost of $39,000. Can the UMass athletic department be far behind in switching to effluent to water their fields?

Without the waiver, these two facilities would have paid $89,000 yearly to Amherst. These funds could then have been applied to the wastewater enterprise fund. Over a full 5-year period, that would have been an estimated $445,000 gain rather than the $200,000 loss quoted by a Selectboard member.


The new monies yearly total $140,000.
Effluent Waiver yearly total -$ 89,000
Sub-total $ 51,000
Demo five frat houses- lost property tax -$ 32,309
Net total $ 18,691

UMass students’ impact on police budget ?
UMass hotel tax loss - $ 50,000

Since this agreement has financial implications for sewer users, it is important for the Finance Committee and Town Meeting to deliberate and comment on this effluent waiver.

Please support article #20.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A view from the top



Although I have cycled up the road to the top of Skinner a couple hundred times yesterday was only my second time hiking it.

As Tony would say "the juggernaut of UMass."


A big rock halfway to the top.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Et tu, Brute?


Who would have thought a newspaper could take things so personally! Jokingly call them “crusty” gets them all twitchy? Or…maybe they’re a tad intimidated by the blogosphere.

Wednesday’s Gazette article on the sweetheart Umass effluent waiver deal making the Town Meeting warrant was a tad late--but perfect. Rookie Selectman Alisa Brewer, trying to sound tough, rejected the petition article (signed by 123 registered voters) as “only advisory” declaring the illustrious Select board can ignore Town Meeting on this controversial, costly matter.

And if nothing changed, that news article would be reprinted in the 10/19 Amherst Bulletin--probably on the Front Page.

But Wednesday evening I revealed to a Gazette editor (in what I thought was a private, off-the-record email) the State Ethics Commission decision had come down and I would post it the following day.

He immediately sicked a reporter on me even though I specifically said not to call my home because “I'm done for the day (whatever it is we call what this is I do). And if somebody from the Gazette calls tonight, my wife will kill us both (she's still pissed about the Chinese Charter school screw up by your previous Education reporter.)”

I took his call and chatted about the case but didn't reveal the verdict.

So Thursday morning at 9:55 I ring a close contact at the Gazette asking “Has the Bully gone to bed?” “Yes” he replies instantly …but after a pregnant pause asks, “Why?”

I explain my breaking story about to upload, BUT I would prefer it NOT to appear until next week “If they really, REALLY want it, then you better wait until 2:00 pm”, he said.

Of course, my sitemeter now reveals 18 folks hovering, awaiting the news I had hyped the night before. I figured worst-case scenario the Bulletin grabs the disclosure and puts it on the Front Page this week and my preferred news article gets bumped to Page Three.

So the Bully does grab it for Page One (below the fold however). And on Page Three? No, nothing about Town Meeting article #20 the effluent waiver controversy; instead a story about a last second “letter” peaceniks wanted the Select board to place on the Warrant signed by only 19 voters demanding the US not attack Iran.

Only in Amherst (Bulletin)!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Moon River...wider than a mile.


For this conservative watchdog, Monday October 15 started out gloomy. Crossing a busy highway while reading a much-anticipated letter (with bright red “confidential” emblazoned on the envelope) is never a good idea, even if the letter is brief.

After nearly becoming road kill and getting back to my office I get a call from a high-ranking elected official who informs me the Town Attorney has opined that the Select board can refuse to place the Umass effluent waiver on the upcoming Town Meeting and will force the Amherst Taxpayers for Responsible Change to get 200 signatures to “call” a Special Town Meeting rather than the 100 required to “insert” on an existing Town Meeting.

And I’m virtually certain that the letter from the Ethics Commission dated October 10 was also sent to Alisa Brewer, Rob Kusner and probably the town manager. So when we show up at the Select board meeting that night to fight for insertion on the current town meeting, I’m expecting many copies (color laser printed no less) on the back table for all to see.

Plus his Lordship, Select board Chair Gerry Weiss had already whined from his bully pulpit at the October 1 meeting that I had a “chilling effect” on the operation of his illustrious Select board.

The town official also mentions a conversation with an Amherst DPW manager who seems to remember the “strategic agreement” only calls for free effluent in the new powerplant--but not the 4 new buildings coming on line or use by the athletic department to irrigate recreation fields.

So there goes our argument about an exponential escalation of revenue loss to the Sewer Fund over the five years of the agreement, well above the annual $38,000 advertised by Selectman Kusner at the 9/17 meeting.

Fortunately that fact was easy to check: The Strategic Agreement that town and Umass officials signed states, “The Town will allow the University to use, free of charge, effluent from the wastewater treatment plant.” That's pretty clearly a Blank Check!

The Press Release, however, issued by the spinmeisters at Umass Office of News and Information states: “UMass will be allowed to use, free of charge, effluent from the town’s wastewater treatment plant for its co-generation power plant that is located nearby.” Hmmmm.

Arriving late to the Select board meeting (after teaching a Spin Class and putting my daughter to bed) I was pleased but puzzled to see nothing on the back table except that night’s agenda, in boring black and white.

And in a brief huddle with Stan Gawle out in the hall I learned the Select board screwed up with procedures and would have to allow our petition on this upcoming Town Meeting. Things were starting to look up.
####


So why would I not want the Ethics Commission rejection news alongside an article on the Town Meeting advisory to overturn the effluent sweetheart deal (in this weeks Amherst Bulletin for instance)?

Because I see them as two completely separate issues. Although either one can accomplish my mission of nixing this outrageous aspect of the deal with Umass.

And Wednesday’s Gazette article, standing alone, on the Town Meeting petition article was perfect! Select man Brewer shot herself in the foot (or perhaps a more vital spot) by suggesting the Select board will not give a damn what Town Meeting thinks about the $500,000 effluent giveaway. I, of course, forwarded that article to the Town Meeting Yahoo listserve.

Even today’s Gazette article, standing alone, on my Ethics case complaint dismissal is fine--because it keeps the issue in the public eye and a jury of my peers (normal working folk) would agree with me.

But why didn’t the Select board distribute their letter and crow about the Ethics complaint dismissal at their Monday meeting or issue public statements on Tuesday?

Well, yesterday just as I was about to publish my post covering the ethics matter my (pro bono) attorney came in to work out. I handed him the dispatch with the bright red “confidential” stamped on it and asked if that meant I could get in trouble for making it public? He thought for a moment and said “yes”.

“Good” I replied, and then clicked the publish button.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Justice is blind (not to mention sloppy)


You call that a “careful review”??? I know you folks handle 1,000 of these cases annually, but with a $1.5 million budget I would hope you could afford a calendar. Sure, both “subjects have filed appropriate disclosures” with the Town Clerk BUT they did it a WEEK LATE!

If you are going to absolve them of a conflict of interest (Mr. Kusner) or perceived conflict of interest (Ms. Brewer) based on a written disclosure, that’s fine. But if that is the SOLE reason, then you need to rethink things.

Because on the night of September 17 NEITHER of them complied--so anything they did THAT NIGHT concerning Umass should be rescinded.

The sweetheart effluent ($500,000-insider-giveaway) vote occurred on 9/17. I complained to your office on 9/20 and that complaint was widely circulated in the media. Mr. Kusner and Ms. Brewer filed their disclosure forms with the Town Clerk on 9/24. The numbers simply don’t add up.

Do over: your investigation and their 9/17 votes!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

State Ethics Commission decides...

I'll tell you all about it this morning around 10-ish.

Shots fired...three shots fired!

So (late) last night before signing the final Town Meeting warrant, with no discussion, our illustrious Select Board voted unanimously to insert the $500,000 Umass effluent water giveaway and as a result the entire 5-year “strategic agreement” will be within “the scope of the article.” Sniperscope that is.

Apparently the Select board never voted to “close the warrant” a month or so ago. In order to avoid chaos the law allows the Powers That Be to set reasonable deadlines for Town Meeting warrant articles (for our article it was about a month ago for zoning articles perhaps six weeks). But since the board never officially voted to say “okay, that’s it folks: we’re not taking anymore” they had to accept whatever came in to their office by close of business yesterday.

Unfortunately everybody’s favorite aging activist, Vince O’Connor also snuck THREE zoning articles in yesterday —all of them anti-business, anti-development. Yikes!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Now the ball is in the Select Board's court...

UPDATE: By noon our efficient Town Clerk's office had certified 88 names (throwing out ten). So we are now officially (with Friday's 33) at 121, or 21 over the top!

This morning at 9:35 Amherst Taxpayers for Responsible Change delivered to the Select Board office an additional 98 signatures in addition to 33 already certified by the Town Clerk on an petition requesting the following article be inserted on the Fall Special Town Meeting warrant that closes this evening at 8:50pm:

“To see if the town will strongly urge the Select Board to rescind their September 17, 2007 3-2 vote as Sewer Commissioners to waive effluent fees to Umass, Amherst over the five years of the “strategic agreement.”

According to the final clause of the "Strategic Agreement":

9. Termination - In the event that if the University of Massachusetts, the Town, Amherst Regional Public Schools (APRS) or Amherst Elementary Schools (AES) experience changes that materially affect the equity of this agreement, or if relevant, new information becomes available, the party so affected may initiate, and the other party must agree to participate in discussion of amended terms and conditions to this agreement so as to preserve the underlying principles of equity and the allocation of the cost of this agreement. Any modification or amendment shall be made by written mutual agreement, and shall become effective only when signed by all parties. Either party may terminate this agreement by giving written notice to the other party 180 days in advance of when the termination is to take effect.

Since the Select board was told the effluent waiver would only cost town taxpayers $38,000 per year, but now "new, relevant information" indicates that usage will double therefor doubling the cost to the taxpayers, that part of the agreement needs serious reconsideration.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

911 at ease


Just one of the (many) things I respect about Amherst Public Safety folks—police, fire or EMT—is they simply ooze love for what they do. So when they host a public event like the FD Central Station Open House or Citizens Police Academy, the professionals involved don’t simply go thru the motions.

Yesterday Kira and I—after a busy morning of soccer and karate—arrived late, around 2:15 and the Chief and Assistant Chief were still there answering questions and giving tours (probably the same question they have heard a 1,000 times before).

Now Kira wants to be a firefighter when she grows up. I could not be more proud of that; although, unsure how I would handle the worry.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Shots fired!


Well the crusty old Gazette was a tad optimistic yesterday saying I had collected almost as many signatures as necessary. Actually by close of business yesterday the Town Clerk certified 33 signatures, while throwing out about half-dozen (couldn’t read the name or giving a P.O. Box for address rather than mailing address).

Although they did give me a weird look when I handed in the first sheet with the warrant article text writing in bright red ink.

And while I don’t mind the term “self appointed troublemaker for the Select board” (what about the Town Manager?) I prefer “conservative watchdog.”

By Monday noon we will have all 100 signatures (and then some) and the Town Clerk’s office has been fastidious about confirming them. The (ping pong) ball is in the Select board’s court.

Friday, October 12, 2007

WANTED: Definitely Alive!


Hey dude! Where the Hell are you? Amherst is cold and clueless enough as it is. Don’t abandon me here with all these tree hugging, Volvo driving, quiche eating, anti-war drones.

Come on folks, The People’s Republic of Amherst also has 444 bloggers out of Massachusetts’s 31,700: Let’s find this guy.

UPDATE: WE FOUND HIM. His sister posted on his blog that he is alive and "recovering." I'll try to hold down the fort until he returns.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Life is hard your Lordship

"Chilling effect." You mean like the DA finding you in violation of Open Meeting Law twice in the last three years? Or an Ethics Complaint where two of your five members have a conflict of interest? Rules can be tough. It's way more fun when you don't have to follow them. Can't stand the heat? Then vacate the kitchen!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Town Meeting to take up Umass water giveaway

By Monday morning Amherst Taxpayers for Responsible Change will submit over 100 voters names to the Select board office on the following Warrant Article:

“To see if the town will strongly urge the Select Board to rescind their September 17, 2007 3-2 vote as Sewer Commissioners to waive effluent fees to Umass, Amherst over the five years of the “strategic agreement.”

The Select board is scheduled to sign the warrant for the Special Fall Town Meeting on Monday evening. According to Mass General Laws Chapter 39: Section 10:
“The Selectmen shall insert in the warrant for every Special Town Meeting all subjects the insertion of which shall be requested of them in writing by one hundred registered voters.”

I’ll drink to that! (Clean water of course)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The stench worsens


When it comes to the smelly case of gifting over a half-million dollars in effluent to Umass (over 5 years), for once I agree with the Town Manager: My Ethics Commission complaint concerning two Umass connected Select board members does not endanger the “strategic agreement.”

Umass beat up the town manager so badly formulating this one-sided deal, there is simply no way in Hell they are going to take their toys and go home when the free effluent component gets vetoed.

And I find it a tad disconcerting that the Town Manager seems to suggest in yesterday’s Gazette article that the state ethics commission may not have the authority to “void member votes even if it does find a violation.”

Hmmmm. So Mr. Shaffer, if the state finds one or two Select board members acted illegally but lacks the authority to change that illegal vote you are still going to declare victory? Kind of the like the NE Patriots electronically stealing the opposing teams defensive signals.

And I also find it interesting that, after consulting with the new town attorney (at $150/hour) Shaffer states: “We don’t think the complaint has standing under that portion of the statute.” Sounds to me like it may have standing under some other portion of the statute.

I also completely agree with Mr. Shaffer’s closing quote: “The university and the town will continue to seek out opportunities to engage in agreements that can be to the benefit of both.”

This silly “strategic agreement” certainly doesn’t qualify!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

No good deed...

Why didn’t Amherst College trumpet from the top of The Notch (which they own) the revelation they’re now paying Amherst $16,792 annually on the Dakin Estate—especially when Umass just absorbed Frat Row, forever draining $32,309 from town coffers?

And why NO effort whatsoever from Amherst College to promote the Zoning Change coming before Town Meeting next month (that requires a daunting two-thirds vote, and already has tree huger Selectman Rob Kusner and aging-activist-with-time-on-his-hands Vince O’Connor opposing it) allowing expansion of their quaint and cozy Lord Jeffery Inn?

Amherst College blog (Amerst.com: acknowledging how townies pronounce it) says when it concerns the $1.3 BILLION endowment, the Trustees mimic laconic graduate Silent Cal Coolidge: “Amherst College officials have traditionally been far quieter about such matters, releasing audited figures just once a year in August and steadfastly refusing to provide quarterly or unaudited figures.”

And their Public Relation’s folks spin far less stories per news cycle than their counterparts at Umass. For instance, not nearly enough has been written about the good deed Amherst College performed donating land to Habitat for Humanity creating four, taxpaying, “affordable housing” units in Amherst.

Perhaps Amherst College simply doesn’t want exposure about the Dakin Estate (and perhaps the blunder to have failed finding some sort of academic use) because they don’t want town officials auditing their vast holdings for perhaps another swath or two of property that may not fit the Academic Exemption or Chapter 61-B reduction.

My lovely wife Donna (with NO time on her hands) recently became a member of the Town Commercial Relations Committee that has met jointly 3 or 4 times now with the Planning Sub Committee on Zoning (Yes, Amherst has far too many committees) and she thinks some folks want Town Meeting to hold hostage the zoning change in exchange for other payments from Amherst College.

Short sighted of course, because in this particular case, what's good for Amherst College is GREAT for Amherst. If the valuation of the Lord Jeff doubles it pays twice the taxes to Amherst plus the spin-off effect promoting downtown business activity.

The time for Amherst College to, unconditionally, step up is quickly approaching. Our timid Town Manager warns that when the train wreck they call the Umass “strategic agreement” is completed (now bogged down because of my Ethics Complaint; and I only hope it becomes derailed) he plans to engage Amherst and Hampshire Colleges.

Of course at this point, either College would simply point out the Umass "deal" really only amounts to $75,000 in new money to Amherst. And since Umass has 25,500 students, that’s only a paltry $3 per head.

At that ridiculous rate, Amherst College and Hampshire College pays $5,000 each. Chump change indeed.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

An expensive view


I honestly think our biggest landowner Amherst College, (named after the town not the General) doesn’t pay its fair share. And when you have $1.3 BILLION in reserves, it’s not like you’re forgoing food on the table. Then of course our #2 landowner, Umass, doesn’t carry its considerable weight either.

Since I live less than 10 houses down from this majestic view and cycle past it almost every day between St. Patty’s Day and Thanksgiving, I would certainly not want 20 houses to sprout or—God forbid—a neon, clownish Bank of America building.

Since my great, great Grandfather Tom Kelley, who carried Miss Emily—that would be Dickinson—to her grave, had a final job working as a night watchman for Amherst College, I take no joy in throwing stones their way.

And while I was impressed that Ms. Emily would honor Tom as her chief pallbearer, considering he only had one arm and a long way to carry her coffin; it also occurred to me that Amherst College showed him respect as well (ignoring his handicap) by giving him that night watchman job. After all, when was the last time you saw a one-armed security guard?
####


So I wondered how the newer property (Dakin Estate) Amherst College acquired 100 yards from this panoramic expanse could be valued at $1 million and this larger track owned forever by the college at four times less:

In a message dated 10/5/07 8:13:25 AM, BurgessD@amherstma.gov writes:
It consists of two parcels 1 at 20 Acres and under Chapter 61B is valued at $47,000 and the other at 30 acres at $189,500. These two properties would a lower value from the Dakin property as the rear portions are broken off by a brook and wetlands so we applied a discount to them. They also lack the access points that the Dakin property has so I considered that land more valuable.


(Chapter 61B means the property is used for recreation/open space and hence has a valuation of only 25% its real value).

Amherst College is, indeed, the #1 taxpayer in town. Homes they lease to professors at reduced rates are valued and taxed like any other housing in Amherst. And the Amherst Golf Course (unlike the town’s) pays taxes as does the Lord Jeffery Inn—unlike the Umass Campus Center Hotel.

Yet they rent their (untaxed) opulent recreation fields and dormitories during the summer to private businesses offering expensive summer camps for soccer, cheerleading, ultimate Frisbee etc. The assessor considers that “incidental use” and doesn’t pro rate the academic exemption to reflect this 2 or 3 months of business activity.

Of course the same scenario applies to Hampshire College, one of the most expensive schools in the country) and other non profits like Churches, the VFW, American Legion and the Amherst Women’s Club, for wedding receptions, anniversary parties, etc.

Umass, however, is a totally different critter. The assessor can’t tax them PERIOD (so that critter would be a Ten-Ton Godzilla). Thus removing Frat Row—that paid Amherst $32.000 in FY07—FOREVER eliminates that revenue no matter what Umass does with it.

Amherst College had two years to implement academic use of the Dakin Estate before the assessor hit them with a $1 million valuation, resulting in a $16,000 tax payment. Umass has no such deadline with the former Frat Row properties.

Although I still think odd to ONLY value the property at $1 million when Amherst College paid $4.3 million. My 25 years of selling experience tells me the value of something is whatever somebody is willing to pay. The assessor however considers Amherst College a “motivated buyer” that does not necessarily reflect the true value of the property.

But obviously others drove the bid beyond $4 million. If Amherst College dropped out and a private developer won the bid for the Dakin Estate, the valuation would instantly have escalated to $4 million (and then five times that when development occurred)

And remember, every $1 million of value equals $16,000 in taxes to the town.

To be continued: Immediately above (Yeah, I work Sunday's)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

“Signs, signs...EVERYWHERE signs”


Now you would think, of ALL people the Amherst League of Women Voters (who go by the wordier League of Women Voters of Amherst) would respect town regulations and not plant lawn signs on town property—even if it is advertising a liberal, do-gooder cause.

But hey, some folks think the League—like those evil corporate bankers who pilot black helicopters and meet secretly in an underground bunker in an undisclosed location—actually pulls the strings on town government from behind (or would it be above?) the scenes.

I did hear that his Lordship, Select Board Chair Gerry Weiss (champion of all things Social Service) was unhappy with the DPW for policing the sign ordinance.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Look who paid their taxes!



So Mr. Keenan (99 cents in reserves), finally, coughed up $63,243.30 in back taxes and legal fees over his “shack” in an otherwise cozy neighborhood.
http://www.masslive.com/hampfrank/republican/index.ssf?/base/news-11/1191396044137400.xml&coll=1




And even Amherst College ($1.3 billion in reserves) paid $17,000 in taxes for the property they purchased three years ago for $4.3 million to protect their golf course. I’d be a tad more impressed if they had donated $10,000 to the schools those two years they were allowed the freebie but hey, that’s just me.


In a message dated 10/1/07 10:21:26 AM, Amherst AC writes:


Hey David,

So what did the Dakin property (355 South Pleasant St.) pay the town 2 or 3 years ago when it was still on the tax rolls?

Have you started charging Amherst College for simply sitting on it?

Larry


In a message dated 10/1/07 10:35:05 AM, BurgessD@amherstma.gov writes:

Hi Larry,

The property was exempt for FY’s 2005 and 2006 and has been taxable again since FY 2007. In FY 2004 it was assessed for $652,400 and paid $11,351.76 and FY 2003 it was assessed at $652,200 and paid $11,159.14, in FY 2007 the value was $1,070,900 and the taxes were $16,791.71. The rates were $17.40, $17.11 and $15.68 respectively for 2004, 2003 and 2007.

David W. Burgess
Principal Assessor, Town of Amherst

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

"Miss the forest for a tree, or a little bush..."


Okay so I’m still having a hard time getting exact numbers on how much effluent the new Power plant will consume when it goes online this coming March, but the UMass PR folks republished a couple of puff pieces that use the figure 200,000 gallons per day.

Last year Umass paid us $37,800 to feed the old steam plant at a super discount rate of $1 per 1,500 gallons (when it would have been $6 for normal potable water) or 155,342 gallons per day. So based on a consumption rate of 200,000 gallons per day it would come to $48, 666 or a 13% increase.

Just for the new, admittedly quite cool, Powerplant.

However Umass also has four new buildings coming on line in the near future that use effluent to run “chillers” (air conditioning) and their consumption is projected to about equal that of the new Powerplant.

And since the beancounters in the White Castle (Whitmore) are now keeping track of water consumption by the Athletic Department they are more motivated to start watering their playing fields with effluent.

Hence in the near future (certainly well within the five year period of the “strategic agreement”) Umass use of effluent will double. And hey why not, it’s now FREE!

Video below is Professor Kusner selling the deal.


video

UPDATE: Well if the venerable Umass Daily Collegian can cover this AND plug my blog I guess I can return the favor:
http://media.www.dailycollegian.com/media/storage/paper874/news/2007/10/01/News/Amherst.Select.Board.Criticized-3002358.shtml

Monday, October 1, 2007

Say What???


“Unless the matter is resolved publicly, you should be aware that we will not be able to inform you of what action we take regarding your complaint. This is because our enacting statute, G.L. c. 268B, and our procedures impose strict confidentiality requirements on all aspects of our review of complaints. We trust you can understand that protecting the confidentiality of our investigations and our sources is essential to our effectiveness, and to complainants’ and subjects’ legitimate privacy concerns.”

Okay, so let’s resolve this publicly: the 9/17 Select board free water for Umass vote was so fraught with foul ups, why don’t they just do it over tonight (with Mr. Kusner and Ms Brewer abstaining of course).