Monday, February 8, 2010

Live from Amherst Town Hall: It's SB Monday night!

UPDATE: Tuesday morning

This damn good column in the Boston Globe from fellow Umass grad Kevin Cullen should be required reading for the all the Amherst town employee unions--especially the teachers union.

What Goes Around

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ORIGINAL POST:
Last night
The School Committee across town must be pretty busy as this meeting is fairly dead. Maybe a dozen folks in the Peanut Gallery.

Stephanie starts on time (no surprise).

7:02 PM
First up: Andy Steinberg, Chair Finance Committee
"Long collaboration" from the Budget Coordination Group. Best work from "all of us". Not something new. Been engaged in lengthy process. Started in 2008. Had to make substantial cuts last year and did so with no Override. Identified core services and how to provide most efficiently. Even made LSSE (recreation dept) cut back on tax support...

7:10 PM. Andy is still talking. (pretty good for not having a script). Process this year was "very difficult" Schools are still working thru it tonight and tomorrow (Regional meeting). Even with Override something will get cut. BCG reached conclusion we need "some amount" for an Override--but not to exceed $1.9 million.

Ties it all together: Schools, Library, Public Safety need this Override. Did consider a "menu Override" but decided to simply go with the all-or-nothing.
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7:17 PM Open to Public Comment. First up, Clare Bertrand leader of the Override movement (replaced Ricky Boy who did such a lousy job three years ago). We've "made some really hard decisions (concerning cuts). Don't see this kind of collaboration often and we should cheer it.

Yeah, I guess as long as they agree with the Override, eh?


View it as one townwide effort (all for one and one for all). We don't want to lose "what is dear to us." One vote for the community to say what it wants.
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7:20 PM Next up Stan Gawle spokesperson for anti-override 'Amherst Taxpayers for Responsible Change', and chief architect of the torpedo sinking of the 'Amherst Plan' Override three years ago:

Excessive salary increases of 3 to 7.5% is what's causing this Override. He sites Longmeadow where the teachers union just settled for 1% per year for two years. Talking about capital items: $140,000 sitting in an account for bathroom rehab at Community Field and it's been sitting in an account for five or six years now.

Two portable classrooms we paid $215,000 for and were never used as classrooms and now are being sold as surplus.

Will the town promise to put an Underride on the ballot if more money does come in after the Override if/should pass?

Need to reduce Capital appropriations by $300,000 that could go to other things in the budget.
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Yuri Friedman, Amherst town meeting member: Put it on the ballot let the public get informed and make the decision.
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7:33 PM Rick Spurgin, Amherst Town Meeting (also a "Financial Economist"). The longer we put this off the harder it's going to be.
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7:35 Another pro Overrider. We're heading towards becoming an Argentina. Need revenue to maintain and restore some of the things we believe in. We also need Universal Health Care (what do you wanna bet he voted for Obama?)
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7: 40 PM Hwei-Ling Greeney: Voted against the last Override. Tonight I'm here to say I'm happy what the town did after the last Override failed. Applauds LSSE becoming more self supporting and the regionalization of emergency dispatch. So I'll support this Override IF shared sacrifice. Those on town payroll give back some of their payraise and step increases. If that happens before March 23rd election then I'll support the Override. I believe voters will be more likely to vote yes as well.
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7:45 PM Vince O'Connor. First confirms that Overrides are forever. Stephanie agrees this one would be a permanent increase in the tax levy. Vince would like to see a Menu Override. Can draw more people into the process, who will be interested in their niche programs.

Better to have some winners than no winners.
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7:53 PM Pat Holland President Board of Trustees, Jone Library. We are only a "little sliver" out of the total pie. Mass regulations require a certain minimum amount of tax support from the town in order to maintain state library certification. Our Trustees had different opinions. About half supported an Override. Others think question should not be the domain of the Trustees but should be decided by voters. That is why we did not take an official stand. If passed, Override would keep open the main library on Friday afternoons. Jones has about 1,000 visitors per day.

Recent gift of $293,000 is "designed to go into the endowment" (currently around $6.5 million, Hmm...) It's up to the "Friends of the Jones Library" weather to spend it avoiding all the cuts that the Override would obviate (a tad under $70,000).

8:05 PM End of 'public discussion.' Now the ball is in the Select Board court.

Princess Stephanie: If Override passes and unanticipated $ comes in, we will not tax the full amount of the Override (doesn't mention the year after, or the year after...)

Conor White-Sullivan, fresh scrubbed Umass student : We're launching a new website where everybody can make comments and discuss the Override (plus other political issues) at Localocracy.org

8:08 PM Gerry Weiss. This started out at $4.3 million short. Revised state cut from 10% down to 5% that brought us down to $3.2 million. Came up with $1.3 million more cuts and now we're at $1.9 million. The cuts are a "done deal" with or without Override. Town Meeting sets the budget so even if we promise not to tax the full amount they could still spend it (good point Gerry--but for the wrong side)

Points out the town has cut $6 or $7 million over the past three or four years. Yeah, Gerry that's true, but the town never would have done that if the Amherst Plan Override passed three years ago--and if it had passed back then, it would have now generated over $6 million in taxes from homeowners.

8:20 PM Town Manager Larry Shaffer: When the Gov announced his zero cut budget I put back restorations to Public Safety. As money becomes available we will prioritize according to a restoration list.

400 street lights have been identified for termination. (apparently not impacting public safety...apparently)

8:30 PM. Gotta go home and tuck in the kids. You can read more in tomorrow's Springfield Republican and Daily Hampshire Gazette.

16 comments:

Richard Spurgin said...

Thats all I get? ... talk for 5 minutes and I get one sentence :-)

Cheers Rich

LarryK4 said...

Sorry, you put me to sleep. But...good points: a million here and a million there, pretty soon your talking real money.

Anonymous said...

"8:20 PM Town Manager Larry Shaffer: When the Gov announced his zero cut budget I put back restorations to Public Safety. As money becomes available we will prioritize according to a restoration list."

So does this mean the 3 police & fire positions aren't on the cut list anymore? What about the dispatcher position?

Anonymous said...

A STRONG ARGUMENT:

"... I'll support this Override IF shared sacrifice. Those on town payroll give back some of their payraise and step increases. If that happens before March 23rd election then I'll support the Override. I believe voters will be more likely to vote yes as well.

Anonymous said...

The School Committee voted tonight to approve a request of $400K for the elementary schools alone to fill the budget gap if an override vote is held.

Not that many people there, either.

Rich Morse

LarryK4 said...

And if I had to guess, I would prognosticate that the Regional School Committee at their meeting tomorrow will ask for $1.1 million (give or take a hundred grand)

Anonymous said...

Alisa Brewer demonstrated in her comments on the issue of lump sum versus menu that she understands what's going on vis-a-vis School Committee, indicating that there's a scenario in which she would support a menu. She showed some real savvy in her comments tonight. Otherwise, we have two elected boards that, other than Ms. Brewer's level of attention, seem to have been talking in two different universes.

On the menu topic, O'Keeffe, Hayden, Stein, and Shaffer are whistling in the dark, engaging in some of the baldest wishful thinking I've seen in awhile. They seem to be oblivious to what's been going on in School Committee, and that may be due to the time demands on the three SB members as volunteers. Shaffer talks on and on about food menus as an analogy, parts of government being played off against other parts, blah, blah, blah. With all due respect, I don't believe that he knows what he's talking about in this limited area. Does he have a prior override experience in one of the many previous bailiwicks that he's served in? I've heard nothing on that.

I don't believe that parents alone can pass this override, and this is going to be seen as a Parents (unfairly seen as Spoiled Parents) Uber Alles vote. So the Town and the Libraries, which have their own independent needs, some of them desperate, are going to be taken down by the skepticism, division, and distrust about the Schools. The reaction to Dr. Alberto's outsized salary is just the tip of the iceberg. That's my take, and I hope to be wrong.

I know that when I agree with Vince O'Connor on something, I should get that checked. Well, I agree with him on the menu. The three or four segments of government on the ballot would cause some voters to actually REALIZE that we have different branches (who knew?) and they'd have to educate themselves on the performance of each one. That in and of itself would be a useful exercise.

The honchos simply rolled over everyone else on the menu override topic, both in BCG and in SB. And they've made their bet on a lump sum. I think it's a loser. The problem is that some activist parents are talking out of an echo chamber they've built up around themselves, from which they drive dissenters out. Mr. Tierkel's scolding of Ms. Sanderson is just one indicator of that.

Once again, I'd love to be wrong on this, because I remain a committed "yes".

Rich Morse

Realist said...

Until ALL of the school/Town unions agree to eliminate/curtail their step and/or COLA increases the override is a dead issue. You can't claim "the sky is falling" out of one side of your mouth and then agree to these wage/salary increases out of the other side of your mouth and expect people to buy into the notion that we have to open the spigot wider and pour in more money. It doesn't take perfect vision to see that the Emperor has no clothes in this situation and please stop insulting us by saying that he does. Unions...make the shared sacrifice and the local taxpayers will do the same. Stay short-sighted and you will then be forced to watch as your ranks shrink by one employee at a time. (why do I keep thinking about that "and then they came for me..." quote from WW II?)

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Anonymous said...

what is being referred to when the writer writes: "Mr. Tierkel's scolding of Ms. Sanderson is just one indicator of that."?

LarryK4 said...

I think Mr. Morse is referencing an email sent though his War Room to all Amherst Center folks lambasting her column in the Bully last month that compared the criticism she gets with President Bush shutting down dissent after 9/11

Anonymous said...

Mr. Tierkel sent the email over the Amherst College e-mail system to how many people and why them?

Anonymous said...

Never thought I'd see the day:

As a long-time TM member, and a current candidate for TM, I must declare that I am on the fence on this override. This comes after watching a School Committee that was downright inspiring in what it is trying to take on and THEN a Select Board that seems to be in La-La Land.

As I said on Catherine's blog earlier, don't lecture us about "making the perfect the enemy of the good" and then set up a ballot situation that is the epitome of that problem.

I think that voters should have the opportunity to assess the different parts of the government independently and make separate judgements. I think that affording such an opportunity treats the voters with respect, and not as children. I listened to the arguments for a lump and none of them gained any traction with me.

So, with some regret, I'm on the fence.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

Larry 7:46- so you're insulting to anonymous and your're insulting to people like Richard Spurgin who use their real name. I get it. You're just a jerk to anyone who disagrees with you.

LarryK4 said...

Oh I think Rich, unlike you, has a sense of humor. Rare for somebody in his field--altogether common in yours.