Jim Brassord pitches Amherst College reconstruction projects to Amherst Historical Commission
Todd Diacon and Jim Brassord pitch BID to Amherst Select Board
With recent appearances before the Select Board to support the formation of a Business Improvement District as well as the Planning Board and Historical Commission for new construction and major renovations, Jim Brassord seems to be the poster boy for all things Amherst College, although President Biddy Martin did get out for the grand reopening of the stately Lord Jeffery Inn.
Amherst College President Biddy Martin (does not require a microphone)
And both the BID and Lord Jeffery Inn will contribute greatly to the revitalization of downtown Amherst. Amherst College is the largest landowner in town and even though the vast majority of their empire is tax exempt, they are still the town's largest taxpayer contributing about $350,000 last year for 40 some odd houses used to shelter professors and of course their profitable nine hole golf course that puts the town's moribund municipal offering to shame.
The Lord Jeffery Inn, open for business
Amherst College is also refurbishing the old historical Baptist church downtown for office space and launching a $200 million, six year construction project, for a new Life Science Building on campus. And all these construction/renovation projects will be protected by the Amherst Fire Department.
Amherst College owned former Baptist Church in the heart of downtown Amherst
Former Town Manger Larry Shaffer crunched the numbers four years ago to discover Amherst College cost the town about $120,000 annually for fire/ambulance protection. That year the College, kindly enough, donated $120,000 to the town's General Fund.
Ahh, but then the stock market slid into the toilet and Amherst College's endowment declined from $1.3 billion down to a paltry $1 billion. In response they shelved the $20 million reconstruction of the Lord Jeff, and reduced the Payment in Lieu of Taxes to Amherst from $120,000 to $90,000 and let Amherst taxpayers go back to subsidizing emergency services.
But now their endowment has W-A-Y more than recovered, sitting at a historic high, $1.6 billion. The sparkling renewed Lord Jeff is open, and work is about to commence on the former Baptist Church they purchased two years ago for $2.3 million, over twice its assessed value. But even at that lower value the building generated $16,000 in taxes to the town. And at today's whopping tax rate ($19.74/$1,000) would have generated $20,000.
Amherst College, around that same time, purchased and removed from the tax rolls houses on Hitchcock and Snell Street that today would also be generating $20,000 if still on the tax rolls.
22 Snell Street
14 Hitchcock Street
Most recently the town was overly generous with the Spring Street Parking lot renovation at the Lord Jeff's front door, spending over $350,000 in enterprise fund money and providing almost two years worth of work for an already busy enough DPW.
Spring Street Parking lot adjacent to the Lord Jeff
So let me recap: Over the past three years Amherst College has added to the protection portfolio of the Amherst Fire Department, removed buildings from the tax rolls and reduced annual payments to the town, all while their endowment has grown significantly.
Currently Amherst, the town, is cobbling together the FY13 budget which goes into effect July 1, 2012. And for the first time in many a year there's no gloom and doom talk emanating from Town Hall about devastating budget cuts, although the schools, as usual, are looking at a $500,000 shortfall.
Since Amherst the College and Amherst the Town are synonymous with education it would be both fitting and nice if the College donated a chunk of change to either the town for new fire/ambulance equipment, or the schools to help close that $500,000 sinkhole.
And I'm sure Town Manager John Musante or Superintendent Maria Geryk would buy Biddy Martin (or Jim Brassord) a beer at the Boltwood Tavern.
Recent typical weekend for AFD (note calls to Amherst College compared to UMass)