Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Diving Into Disaster

Select Board July 18 short one member and a Temporary Town Manager

Last night at just after 11:30 PM -- five hours into their meeting -- with nobody left in the audience the Select Board, after only five minutes of discussion, unanimously voted to support a controversial  November 8 ballot question.

No, not the recreational marijuana question ... but it does make me wonder what they were smoking during that five minute break earlier in the meeting.

Just as they spent maybe five minutes discussing it back on July 18th when they unanimously voted to place it on the ballot.

Thus the Select Board has graphically demonstrated their true believer naïveté by cheerleading the $65 million Debt Exclusion for the new Mega School.

If passed the town portion (about 50%) to finance that shiny new building will come to over $300 per year for the median value home in Amherst, where our tax rate is already top ten in the state.

Click to enlarge

But I'm sure the Select Board will spend lots more time explaining their vote over the next six weeks than they took coming to it in the first place.


Maria Kopicki said...

The figures that the school administration (and it would seem the Select Board) keep using for annual impact on taxpayers are averages over 25 years of very gradually decreasing numbers. A taxpayer with a home valued at ~$300K would actually be paying over $400 per year initially. They won't see that "average" value until around 2030.

Larry Kelley said...

The Finance Committee is working on a report to be published soon and I'm sure they will use much better numbers.

Well, better in the sense of being more accurate.

Anonymous said...

Where can we get our "vote NO" signs?

Anonymous said...

So, now you wake up. For months we have been saying our taxes will be skyrocketing if this, the library, and the DPW folly goes through.

Maria Kopicki said...

This project can be stopped. If Amherst resident's say NO to the debt exclusion override, it doesn't happen and we can get to a better solution for our schools and our town.

To help stop this ill-advised project, go to www.SASSAmherst.org or to Save Amherst's Small Schools facebook page.

Many people still do not know that this isn't a done deal and that we finally get to weigh in so spread the word and Vote No on 5 in November.

Anonymous said...

Tax conservatives would destroy this country given the chance. We need to invest in our schools. Its startlingly simple. These people forget who paid the way for the lives they have now.

Anonymous said...

Before you go off half-cocked on the path of recrimination, it's important to look in the mirror.

Have you been paying close attention to our Town Meeting and its decisionmaking? No?
Do you know of opportunities in the past when Town Meeting passed on expanding our tax base, occasions in which we could have expanded on a revenue pie beyond the 2.5% yearly limit? You don't remember?

Mr. Kelley, when he's not wallowing in undifferentiated snark, can recite the long history of this recklessness in Town Meeting as well as anyone. And I would submit, THAT'S where the focus should be.

We have collectively botched the revenue side, and now we have to pay for that. Mr. Kelley's obsession with money not paid, like the UMass hotel tax, is well-placed in this instance. I'm voting for the override, because we have to build these schools sooner or later. There is no free lunch. This is a can that should not be kicked down the road.

Rich Morse

Maria Kopicki said...

(Oops - pardon my errant apostrophe. Should have previewed.)

Anonymous said...

Many people in Amherst were concerned when Wildwood was first built in the early 70's. The parents hated the concept and the children were enrolled in huge quads of a hundred or more. Many advised against the concept. As I recall, those schools came in at around 6 or 7 million, which was a lot of money at that time.

Eventually, the concerns that had been expressed, were realized and the building, and its evil twin, Fort River, tried to make the best use possible of an ill-conceived plan.

It seems as history is about to repeat itself, as we have not learned from the mistakes. Please do NOT even consider making another hasty decision that the children will pay for, for many years to come. A mega-school is NOT in the CHILDREN'S best interests.

Though the proponents of this plan will try their best to make us think this is such a good idea and will insist that it has to happen immediately, take a breath and do more research before supporting this crazy plan. Vote NO in November.

Anonymous said...

Save Amherst's Small Schools has No on Q5 lawn signs & bumper stickers. Email them at AmherstSASS@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

Voters need to be aware that TWO issues are convoluted in the Nov. 8th question. Not only are we approving/not approving excluding the debt for the combined school but also we are approving the system whereby pre-K, Kindergarten and first grade will be at Crocker Farm for ALL Amherst kids and the new school will be grades 2-6. At the same time I understand that the former superintendent said that grades 7 and 8 will be moved to the high school. Is it part of this proposal that the Middle School has already been rented to Greenfield Community College or does Town Meeting get to vote on another use for ARMS. What do the other three towns have to say about ARMS use??

There needs to be a whole lot more talking about the empty buildings in Town beginning with the East St. School which we pay to maintain each year. Then I think that the Downtown Fire Station would make a great kid's library for children and teens once we find a home for the new fire station which I, a North Amherst resident have been supporting for more than forty years. What we don't need is a total gutting of the 1928 Jones library full of beautiful woodwork that can't be replicated at any price today for a Directory who declares there will be NO increase in the size of the collections, She says the library needs to come into the 21st century but provides NO SPACE for techology nor an office for a technology director.

Now, Larry, I don't know how your mayor/council would come down on these issues on which there has been NO public discussion. I do believe that Town Meeting in getting 2/3 vote for bonding these projects does at least provide not only CHECKS AND BALANCES but an opportunity for public discussion. Hilda G.

Anonymous said...

Hilda won't the new fire station be further from your home?

kevin said...

What this chart fails to show is who will pay the most over the next fifty years. Young parents will pay way more over the life of the school than you Amherst homeonwers -- like those who bought their house in the 70's for $21k and now sit on a $408k winning lottery ticket. And renters, who pay their taxes out of aftertax income (unlike homeowners who get the deduction) will pay way more. Let me play my little violin for you.

Anonymous said...

The debt service amount remains constant while the town's tax base will vary over the next 30 years, and no one knows which way or how much.

There are what, thirteen major apartment in Amherst -- Mill Hollow, Townhouse*, Brandywine, Puffton, Village Park**, Colonial Village, Aspen Village, Aspen/Chase (Amherst Crossing(,The Brook*, Rolling Green**, Brandywine (Southpoint/Boulders) & Mill Valley**. What percentage of Amherst taxes are collectively paid by the aforementioned? What percentage of the whole tax base, including rental houses, is rental housing?

The Amherst rental market is inherently dependent on two factors -- size of UM student body & HUD's Section 8 program. Were either to decrease, were rents to drop down to those of the Springfield Statistical Area, two things would happen.

1: The value, and thus assessments of the complexes would plummet. If they weren't abandoned outright (which is essentially happened to Brandywine), there would be major abatements.

2: How leveraged are the houses being rented to UM students? A reduction in rental income could force these into foreclosure and then what?

MY POINT: Predicting that UM will continue to expand over the next 30 years is based on the presumption that students not yet born will be attending UMass -- in Amherst. That's a gamble.

THE IMPLICATIONS: If the rental properties pay less, the O/O ones must pay more.

* Condos
** Affordability

Anonymous said...

Uh kevin.... gee... I don't feel like a lottery winner....maybe I will in 25 years...when I am long DEAD!

Rick Hood said...

It’s not a “$65 million Debt Exclusion” it’s a $32.7 million, $66.4 less the $33.7 million the state is paying for. And, the actual override amount is whatever is needed to cover the debt payment on the $32.7 million of debt, which depends on a lot of things, including the term of the bond, and what other debt is coming off the books.

Regardless, the increase in average tax bill will be in the $300 range.

However, it should be noted that building the new school reduces other capital costs that would otherwise be incurred like new roofs and boilers needed for WW and FR. A new school will not need any capital improvements for at least 10 years, probably 20. What that really means is that this debt exclusion override pushes out or lowers the next “regular” override that might be needed, because capital expenses will be lower after the school is built. Hard to say what that exact number is, probably Sean at ARPS knows.

It’s sort of like buying a new car. Your car payment goes up but your maintenance costs go down, so it’s not 100% of the car payment increase that is really coming out of your pocket.

Laura Quilter said...

It's true that maintenance on new buildings can be lower than old buildings, but then we still also need to calculate all the costs of the consolidation that are NOT included in the new building.

Specifically, (a) demolition of Fort River (variously estimated at $1.5 to $2.5 million); (2) renovation at Crocker Farm; (3) site prep at Wildwood; (4) special issues, such as building an ADA ramp to get down the steep slope at Wildwood to the middle school fields that the elementary kids hope to share with the middle school kids; (5) moving costs; (6) construction over-budget .... etc.

When all that is added up, I would personally take bets with anyone that we're looking at $75 million or more, not $67.2 million. (Of course, my ability to bet is not quite so high as the School Committee's ability to bet millions of dollars.)