Wednesday, February 24, 2016

$2 Million Here & $2 Million There

Strong House Amherst History Museum located next door to Jones Library

The Amherst Community Preservation Act Committee held their required public hearing last night to seek input on 15 proposals totaling $2.1 million, with the available pot of funds being "only" $1.8 million.

The overall nest egg is generated by a 3% surcharge on properties, although residential homeowners are exempt from the first $100,000 of their valuation.

 CPA Committee Chair Mary Streeter (center)

Chair Mary Streeter called the meeting to order a few minutes late and explained to the sizable crowd they would go down the list of all the projects and accept comments or questions first, then the Committee would talk among themselves and possible vote on some of the projects.

The only two projects to generate public (supportive) discussion were the First Congregational Church request for $357,647 to install a fire suppression system and the recreation request of $600,000 for a spray park and other improvements at Groff Park in South Amherst.

 Good crowd on a potentially snowy night

Although most of the speakers voicing support were pretty much connected to the projects.

After 45 minutes all 15 projects were done as many did not generate any comments at all and the Committee then took up their discussion of the projects.  The first problem to deal with was some of the historical preservation requests were questionable as to being eligible for CPA spending.

The request from the Strong House/Amherst History Museum for $18,000 to pay for legal counsel to break  the will of the Emerson family (who donated the Strong House to the Amherst Historical Society) so they can sell property to the Jones Library was ruled illegal by the town attorney.

There were also questions/concerns about the legality of $10,000 in "due diligence" money for the Amherst Historical Commission as they seem to be treated differently than the Conservation Commission where due diligence money is routinely funded by CPA.

And a $5,000 request for a headstone to mark the grave of a black soldier who served in the Civil War was also found somewhat questionable, although if the CPA ruled it was a "rehabilitation of West Cemetery" it would pass muster.  Chair Mary Streeter seemed uncomfortable making that declaration.

A $10,000 historical preservation request to photo archive Amherst College owned Little Red Schoolhouse slated for demolition this spring was withdrawn by zealot Carol Gray.

In the end the Committee voted support for the non controversial projects -- previous debt that must be paid, and $3,500 annual dues to the coalition of CPA committees, and will take up discussion and votes at their next meeting March 7.

Town Meeting has the final say on all CPA spending, but they usually act as a rubber stamp for Committee recommendations.

 Little Red Schoolhouse will be demolished in May to make room for Amherst College $200 million science center


Anonymous said...

Why do you think Carol withdrew the request?

Larry Kelley said...

Well the building has been photographed a lot recently, and the CPA Committee was probably going to turn her down anyway ...

Anonymous said...

How can you justify using public money for a sprinkler system in a private building? Where is the separation of "Church and State"? How does this benefit the average taxpayer who doesn't belong to this religion?

Larry Kelley said...

Church officials told the CPA Committee that the general public uses the building more than the actual congregation: AA meetings, Not Bread Alone, a pre school, etc.

And the building is located in the Dickinson Historic District with an imposing presence on the local landscape.

The CPA Committee did authorize $100K for the stain glass window at the Unitarian Church a few years ago.

But I still sense doubt on the part of a few Committee members, so it will be interesting,

Anonymous said...

I agree with separating church and state, but to be honest every request I've made to church to hold meetings there has been obliged. It's actually difficult to find available places to have meetings and the church was very welcoming. I think that church benefits the community in a lot of ways

Anonymous said...

The stained glass window was artistic preservation. There's no way they should approve this. Every religious institution in town will be asking for a new roof, new windows, new toilets, and everything else their congregation should be paying for, not the taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Carol will chain her husband to the building to protest.

Larry Kelley said...

Now THAT would make a great drone shot.

Anonymous said...

From where does the idea of the "separation of church and state" derive? It's not the Constitution, which states only that The state cannot make a law regarding the establishment of a state religion and also that it cannot prohibit the free expresion of religion. Where does the phrase "separation..." come from?

Anonymous said...

It comes from Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut. He was writing to tell them not to fear the religious persecution they faced in their city.

"Be assured, there will forever be a wall of separation between the Church and the State."

Incidentally, they were afraid of religious persecution at the hands of...the Congregationalists of Danbury, Connecticut!

Anonymous said...

OK the stained glass window was a hard pill to swallow, but at least everyone can see it from the outside. grumble, grumble... But why in hell is taxpayer's money being used for sprinklers that are a building system. We might as well pay for the electrical wiring or heating or AC system. If the sprinklers are required by building code, tax payers should not be paying for them. The VFW had to shut down their upstairs kitchen because the Town required an ansul system for all fume hoods in Town and they couldn't afford it. These requests are an abuse of what these funds are for. If this organization can't afford to operate I sure as hell don't want to pay their way, nobody pays mine!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that answer. I appreciate that. And as you point out, the phrase is not included in any of our founding documents.