Tuesday, January 31, 2017

All In A Name

Is Amherst a Sanctuary City?  Well, err, sort of, kinda, maybe ...  Depends who you ask.

If you ask Town Manager Paul Bockelman, as the Finance Committee did recently, he would say "No"; but, it's "complicated."

But if you ask Select Board Chair Alisa Brewer she would seem to indicate that we are but would avoid an outright yes or no answer.

Either way a Town Meeting petition is now circulating to officially designate Amherst a "Sanctuary City" or town or community or whatever the case may be.  Amherst also now shows up on internet articles as being a Sanctuary City,

Certainly the Town Meeting resolution passed in 2012 contains all the sentiments of a Sanctuary City but never actually strings together those two words.

 Click to enlarge/read

So if President Trump's executive order to cut off federal funding to Sanctuary cities and towns really gets enforced how much will it cost Amherst?

Town Manager Bockelman told the Finance Committee we currently get about $200,000 from Department of Justice Grants to APD for sexual violence and alcohol education programs.

 Town Manager Paul Bockelman (left) at 1/26 Finance Committee meeting

But APD has a pretty astute grant writer and they have received a number of federal grants over the past few years. 

And Amherst also gets upwards of $850,000 in Community Development  Block Grants, which is federal money distributed by the state.

So I would not go poking the bear so to speak with an in your face Town Meeting warrant article directed at President Trump.  This being Amherst we are already probably on his radar, if only for the recent embarrassing flag incident at Hampshire College.  

Anti Trump pro Muslim Rally Amherst Town Common 1/19

Fork In The Road

Vote was 123 yes, 92 no, 9 abstain (224 present)

Yogi Berra had the right idea although he could have been a tad more specific about which path to choose.  Perhaps he was suggesting how important experience and instinct are when making decisions, like that famous Supreme Court justice line about knowing porn when he sees it.

For Amherst Town Meeting last night the same path was chosen for a second time even though sternly forewarned it's a dangerous road.

In spite of unanimous approval of the Select Board, School Committee, Finance Committee (with one abstention) and a slew of vocal supporters the $67.2 million Mega School project failed to garner the two thirds votes necessary to pass a bond issue.

 Supporters rally at entry to Middle School last night

Perhaps the most devastating testimony came from member Russ Vernon Jones a retired long time Principal of Fort River School, which these days some folks try to portray as health hazard:

"The education plan (2-6) does not match what works best.  Grade configuration is BIG mistake.  Neighborhood schools build community.  This will dismantle K-6 for many years to come.  Of course teachers want a new school!  But previously they opposed it when other opportunities were available." 
And Maria Kopicki was her usual professorially articulate self, presenting persuasive statistics showing the wait for state funds on a new plan is not necessarily a generation away.

But the sooner Mega School supporters accept defeat and withdraw this project from the MSBA pipeline the sooner we can get started on a new and improved project that will attract widespread support.

A much needed step to make Amherst great again.

 Focus may shift from Wildwood (bottom) to Fort River School (top)

(And with the new 100 year flood plain maps, which FEMA may approve in the next two years, showing dramatic reduction in the overlay around Fort River that school site could get more buildable, although it would require Town Meeting removing it from Flood Prone Conservancy overlay.)  

Click to enlarge/read

Monday, January 30, 2017

On A Wing & A Prayer

 Rolling Green fatal fire (photo by Stephanie Jernigan

If a terrorist bomb detonates in downtown Amherst during peak traffic period you would expect AFD to require nine or more mutual aid ambulance runs from surrounding professional departments over a four hour period.

In fact these days all professional departments practice for those unthinkable Mass Causality Incidents.

But when a routine late Saturday night into early Sunday morning this early in the semester requires nine mutual aid ambulances (mostly for intoxicated college age youth at UMass) something is dramatically wrong.

And the thought that keeps Chief Nelson awake at night is what happens if a major structure fire occurs in the middle of that EMS mayhem, such as we saw a few years ago at Rolling Green that left one UMass student dead?

   AFD Swamped by Larry Kelley on Scribd

Holyoke has come under fire for having one engine on brown out that could have been helpful in that fatal fire on New Year's Day.

But the staffing shortage at AFD is almost like an everyday brownout since Engines or ambulances can't drive themselves.

Yes the UMass funded "impact shift" with four extra firefighters was not on duty because officials felt it too early in the semester to be necessary.

 But even with two extra potential ambulances Mutual Aid would still have been required during that troubling four hour period.

You have to wonder how Northampton is going to feel when they send all their available ambulances to Amherst and one of their own citizens suddenly needs medical assistance?

Replacing Maria

Maria Geryk at 3/31 Finance Committee meeting with Mike Morris, Sean Mangano

The search to replace former school Superintendent Maria Geryk is off to an inauspicious start.  The survey of qualities folks wish to see in her replacement has not gotten very wide circulation.  And as surveys go that's not a great thing.

 Click to enlarge/read

One of the big criticisms of our public schools which we will hear again on the floor of Town Meeting tonight is a lack of transparency and outreach.

The hiring of a "Media & Climate Communications Specialists" (which is not funded in the upcoming fiscal year) did nothing to change that.  Obviously.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Tomorrow, & Tomorrow, & Tomorrow

Former industrial site near North Amherst center
Proposed transformation

On Thursday February 2nd the Amherst Zoning Board of Appeals will convene for the 6th and hopefully final time to support the Comprehensive Permit for Beacon Communities North Square mixed use development at the Mill District in North Amherst.

Yes, academic Amherst once had industry.  Old timers refer to that area of town as "the dirty hands district" because of those long gone industries.  Today industrial land makes up less than 1% of the town tax base.

The Beacon proposal will revive that former industrial site, which currently pays the towns less than $10,000 in property taxes, in a way that will stimulate all of North Amherst via the tenants and businesses it attracts while enhancing our town coffers with over $500,000 in annual property taxes.

In order to offset the losses they will incur from having 26 subsidized housing units in the 130 unit proposal, Beacon will be seeking a temporary ten year property tax break on those units, legislation that was championed by late Town Manager John Musante.

The state requires a town to contribute financially to a Comprehensive Permit project anyway and this method is far less painful since it does not take any money out of the treasury and simply forgoes collecting money over a ten year period.

But how much exactly?

When Beacon Communities came into town four years ago and saved our bacon by buying Rolling Green to keep all 204 units on the Subsidized Housing Index, the town contributed $1.25 million up front.

Forever activist Vince O'Connor, a North Amherst resident, was circulating a sheet at the recent ZBA meeting showing the total tax breaks Beacon is seeking over ten years coming to almost $5 million.

Vince O'Connor low tech tax guestimate

But the spreadsheet presented to the Select Board on January 23rd concludes it will be far less than that (although it is a tad complicated):

Click to enlarge/read

According to Mollye Lockwood,  Cowls VP of Real Estate and Community Development:

It is a reasonable request for the town to contribute about $2 million in
tax relief (that is the approximate amount for the total 10 year period
and what I believe Vince was trying to calculate) to have not only the 26
affordable units but all of the other benefits related to economic
development, village center revitalization, smart growth, etc. (The town,
or anyone else, could not build 26 affordable units deed restricted into
perpetuity for very-low and extremely-low income households for $2
This is a great value for the community and the opportunity cost
that will be lost by not doing it would cost the town exponentially more
in the long run.

Amherst continuously pays lip service to the idea of subsidized housing.  Now it's time for town officials to put their money where their mouth is. 

Friday, January 27, 2017


Atkins Reservoir Friday, January 27: 100% capacity

Atkins Reservoir, which went back online a couple weeks ago, is currently at full 200 million gallon capacity.

A far cry from early this fall when it was down by two-thirds and had to be shut down early. 

 Atkins Reservoir October 7th, 2016:  34% of capacity

Amherst managed to survive an extended period using only the wells and the return of somewhat normal New England weather has now replenished our surface water supplies in Pelham and Atkins which is located in Shutesbury.

The town lifted the water ban that went into effect on August 19th back on December 19th and the consumption levels since then have remained below 3 million gallons per day.

Amherst is permitted by the DEP to draw 4.44 million gallons per day so in our current system there's still plenty of capacity left for new growth as long as Mother Nature does not throw a hot hissy fit.

NIMBYs have embraced the recent water woes as another weapon in their anti-development war using it to attack the proposed Beacon Communities 130 unit development at the Mill District in North Amherst.

Not the first time the usual knee jerk anti-development arguments  have been all wet.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Mayor Council Yes!

After almost two hours of deliberation comparing a Mayor/Council to the current Town Meeting/Select Board the full Amherst Charter Commission -- with one member using remote participation -- decided not to change course on their 5-4 late December "straw vote " to ditch Town Meeting.

Although they did not take a formal (concrete) vote it was obvious none of the Commissioners had changed their minds and if anything are now only more firmly entrenched.

In fact Town Meeting loyalists Gerry Weiss and Julia Rueschemeyer threatened to write a "robust minority report" although colleague Diana Stein promised to work with the five to create the best Charter possible.

This was the second meeting in a row that stalled momentum although the first hour was particularly enlightening as the Commission heard from Northampton (strong) Mayor David Narkewicz and South Hadley Administrator Mike Sullivan.

Sullivan a former Mayor of Holyoke told the Commission mayor/councils are not a one size fits all because every community has a "different texture ... a different fabric -- but if you can adopt what Northampton has go for it because it works really well there."

Mayor Narkewicz pointed out he has a highly trained credentialed finance team in place to handle the complicated finances of a city and their charter -- which gives the mayor a four year term -- makes very clear distinctions between the legislative (Council) and executive (Mayor) branch.

Sullivan concurred adding, "Mayor/Council form expedites things."

 Mayor Dave Narkewicz (ctr), Mike Sullivan (rt)

When asked about corruption Sullivan thought, "The only safeguard against corruption is individual honesty, no matter the system."

Mayor Narkewicz said Northampton passed an ordinance restricting political contributions to $500 even though the state allows $1,000 and he pointed out the Open Meeting Law keeps folks honest since anyone could access his campaign contribution report via the web.

Narkewicz acknowledged he was recently surprised to learn Representative Town Meeting members are exempt from state Conflict of Interest and Open Meeting Laws and he thought that, "was a recipe for problems."

Charter Chair Andy Churchill asked if they had any final suggestions for his Commission and Mayor Narkewicz told them "Make roles very clear.  Don't come up with a diluted mish mash.  Know where the buck stops.  Don't go with a fake Mayor."

The Mayor/Council/Manager Charter proposal in 2003 lost by only 14 votes and one of the main reasons for failure was the (unelected) Manager had more power than the (fake) Mayor.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

DUI Dishonor Roll

Every two minutes, a person is injured in a drunk driving crash

Only two arrests over the weekend for impaired driving, which is a little surprising considering Amherst's population almost doubled with the return of our beloved college students.

Eric Barnes, age 26 stands before Judge Estes
Click to enlarge/read 
Daniel Canon, age 65

Justice Delayed

Soksot Chham Eastern Hampshire District Court Monday morning

I was a little surprised on Monday morning to see a familiar face in the District Court lock up, which is a more secure area used to present alleged criminals to the judges for arraignment or other procedural matters.

In this case Soksot Chham, brother of Soknang Chham who has been indicted by a grand jury for the murder of Joselito Rodriguez, was standing before Judge Thomas Estes for what is known as a "bindover hearing," something I'm told is rather rare these days in District Court.

According to the DA's office:

A bindover hearing is also sometimes called a probable cause hearing and yes, it is an evidentiary hearing to determine whether or not there is probable cause to believe the defendant has committed the alleged crime.  If probable cause is found then the case is “bound over” to the Superior Court. 
The Commonwealth had simply asked Judge Estes for a "continuance" because there had been some problems gathering evidence from Arizona authorities who had originally arrested the brothers.

Of course what got my attention is in his brief presentation Mr. Chham's lawyer suggested the state's time is up and he closed with a request the case against his client be "dismissed."

Judge Estes acknowledged the law concerning this situation is not overly clear but he did ascertain that he could allow one -- and only one -- continuance, so he continued the bindover hearing to February 28th.

Judge Estes felt the need for the delay was not the Commonwealth's fault and that the Chham bothers had help create the situation by running to Arizona immediately after the incident.

But as the players all started to leave the ever affable Judge seemed to suggest he would not see them again, thus telegraphing a likelihood the Commonwealth will bring that evidence to a grand jury for an indictment prior to February 28th thus sending the case to Superior Court.

The wheels of justice turn slowly but as a result they usually get it right.  And the occasional bad guy who goes free on a technicality is the (small) price we pay for living in our free society.  

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Charter Challenge

Charter Commission (four men, four women) January 19

Much to the delight of the eight or nine Town Meeting loyalists in the audience the Charter Commission squandered an entire three hour meeting backtracking from their late December decision to pursue a Mayor/Council by discussing ways to improve the current Town Meeting.

Which is kind of like the horse and buggy industry discussing ways to improve that mode of transportation circa 1910 or today's newspaper industry brainstorming ways to make ink on paper more efficient.

The Commission previously voted 5-4 to put Town Meeting out to pasture but the minority folks are having a hard time accepting that vote.  Kind of like the President Trump haters who have come out of the woodwork over the past two months.

Julia Rueshemeyer -- ever the attorney -- who has transformed into an all out Town Meeting cheerleader, pointed out that close vote was only a "straw vote," and openly wondered what happens now with one mayor/council supporter absent (Irv Rhodes) when the revote is 4-4?

Since the illustrious Select Board will vote to allow remote participation at their Monday night meeting that means absent member Irv Rhodes will be allowed to vote from afar his reaffirmation of mayor/council keeping the 5-4 vote intact.

And while he's at it Mr. Rhodes, who is black, should play the race card to offset Ms. Rueschemeyer playing the gender card at the last meeting praising Town Meeting for having 52% proportion of women.

Of course age, income, home ownership and skin color status is wildly out of whack compared to current town demographics.

In a recent memo to the Commission from their Collins Institute consultants the odd idea of creating a Select Board with one member being essentially a "mayor" was pretty much ruled out of order for ideas the Attorney General would allow.

All the state statutes treat a Select Board as a shared power executive branch, so in Amherst each of the five members are one-fifth of a mayor.  Which is of course the problem.  Nobody takes any one of them very seriously.

And insiders would be happy to point out over the past ten years former Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe and current Chair Alisa Brewer do/did act as sort of the Connecticut version of a "first Selectman" but it's made no difference with government efficiency.

Ms. O'Keeffe spoke during the public comment period and pointed out the signature gathering effort to get the Charter question on the ballot "reflected significant dissatisfaction with town government" and any tweaks/improvements to Town Meeting should be handled by the Town Meeting Coordinating Committee, not the Charter Commission.

Specifically addressing Ms. Rueshemeyer's pro-women rallying cry the longtime former Select Board chair said emphatically,  "This is Amherst.  We've had a majority of women on Select Board and as Chairs for decades!"

The Commission has scheduled an extra meeting for January 30th prior to the Special Town Meeting vote on the $67 million Mega School.  But members hope to take the revote after one more hour of discussion at their Wednesday, January 25th meeting, which starts at 6:30 PM.

At that meeting they will hear from Northampton Mayor Narkewicz who will no doubt be subject to "gotcha" type cross examination by the four Town Meeting loyalists.

The Commission will continue to discuss the merits of Town Meeting and perhaps take a revote later that night whether to rescind the previous "straw vote".

So even if Mr. Rhodes is absent and the Select Board has not approved remote participation the vote to reverse direction from the previous mayor council straw vote will still be a 4-4 tie and therefor the motion does not pass.

Simply enough to understand, even for a lawyer.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Party Chill

To any of my longtime readers this official "Party Smart" report will come as no surprise, since my Party House of the Weekend installments over the past two years have slowed so dramatically I should rename it Party House of the (every other) Month.

And since my monthly page views continue to be as high as ever the P.T. Barnum in me couldn't care less.

But the crusading journalist in me is overjoyed.

Ironically the Select Board gets this presentation on Monday night, the first day of classes at UMass.   They will also be discussing recreational marijuana.

No doubt the Select Board will be considering ways to both limit and slow down the establishment of recreational pot retailers in town.

Too bad because if we could get the college aged youth to switch from alcohol to pot the rowdy party house or Blarney Blowout type episodes will diminish even more. 

Either way, the town and University are winning the war on rowdyism. I'll drink, err, smoke to that!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Even In Amherst

Although trounced 10-1 in Amherst -- and some insiders were surprised it was not greater -- the town will display the 30 commemorative American flags tomorrow or early Friday morning in the downtown to honor the peaceful transition of power occurring in Washington, D.C. aka Inauguration Day, when Donald Trump becomes the 45th President of the United States.

Some of you may remember back in 2004 after the contentious reelection of President Bush, Amherst Town Meeting member Pat Church confused the flag of Puerto Rico with that of Texas and snatched it from the pole immediately in front of Town Hall.

So I am a tad concerned about the security of the 30 commemorative flags -- especially after the flag burning incident at Hampshire College.

Our country is founded on the fundamental right to peacefully protest.  And yes, even flag burning is protected by the First Amendment.

Just not these taxpayer funded public flags originally paid for out of the Veterans Department commemorations budget.


Click to enlarge/read
UPDATE Friday morning:

Amhersst even broke out the really BIG flag, although not nearly large enough to absorb all the tears that will be shed in town today.

Remote Runaround

Amherst Select Board January 9.  Executive branch (for now)

Our Select Board had the opportunity yet again to allow members of town boards and committees to remotely participate and cast votes, but as usual got bogged down in nitty gritty details.

A few days later the nine member Amherst Charter Commission met minus three members -- the most absent to date.  And none of those three got to visit by Skype, Facetime or conference call.

The Select Board, who has the all-or-nothing say for all town boards and committees, has been dilly dallying for almost five years now. 

Last summer the Charter Commission made a special request well before they knew members would have to miss meetings and Select Board liaison Andy Steinberg has reminded his fellow members a few times about how important this is.

The most game changing vote to date taken by the Charter Commission was a 5-4 vote to ditch Town Meeting/Select Board in favor of Mayor/Council, so perhaps they are not in the mood to be nice to their executioners.

But they did promise to have all the trivial concerns addressed by the their next meeting on January 23rd, so boards and committees can immediately thereafter join the 21st century.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Man to Remember

Slobody Farm Conservation Area, Station Road

Anyone who has ever shared a fox hole -- literally or metaphorically -- understands the bonds created after surviving a particularly combative situation where you both had to work together almost as one.  And those bonds grow even stronger if you were fast friends prior to taking fire.

Rich Slobody, who passed away suddenly on Monday after a six month battle with pancreatic cancer, was just such a friend ... and the town is ever so diminished by his loss.

If you drive down University Drive you will see his handiwork, a large office building next to the Post Office and a smaller new building in the final stages of construction next door that will perhaps someday be a highly profitable medical marijuana dispensary.

 101 University Drive, Slobody Technology Park Building

 85 University Drive.  1st to get SB approval  for pot dispensary but still needs Special Permit from ZBA


But if you look at it closely you will see a hallmark of my ever so savvy friend and consummate businessman:  a drive up window, making it perfect for distribution of legal medicinal marijuana or turning it into a bank should the pot deal fall through.

Richie was one of my first karate students when the Karate Health Fitness Center opened in 1982 at the "dead mall." He had studied martial arts before but unlike most of those types he did not have a chip on his shoulder about his original discipline being the best in the world.

At the time he owned two bars and my fiance had secretly colluded with him to throw me a "bachelor party" at Jason's Pub in Easthampton.  He later sold that just before the state increased the drinking age to 21 and it went out of business soon thereafter.

But he kept Charlie's in Amherst for another 20+ years, only selling it a few years ago to a long time employee.  He was broken hearted when it went out of business, becoming what is now Old Towne Tavern.

In 1999 we endured together the "Smoking Ban in Bars War".   He as a barowner and me as a crusading columnist for the Amherst Bulletin, which later named it the top issue of the year.

Amherst was first in Massachusetts to ban smoking in bars since they are a "workplace."  Yes, the ban in restaurants had been around for a while, but nobody wanted to mess with the bar culture.

The Northampton Board of Health tried it first but buckled after a heated challenge from Packard's and a few others.

And after a year of the constant strife generated in Amherst by the ban, I kind of understood why state or local officials didn't want to deal with flack from barowners.

Rich was shunned by his fellow downtown compatriots because he instantly conformed to the smoking ban, and that first summer he told me Charlie's lost $10,000 vs the $10,000 in profit it had made the previous summer.

One of the last times I had a chance to talk with him and fondly reminisce about old times was at a memorial service for another Amherst icon, former barowner Chick Delano, who had pretty much put Richie on a blacklist all those years earlier.

Even more tellingly he was most proud of the deal he negotiated with the town to sell his family horse farm on Station Road to our Conservation Department, not because of the $900,000 or so it generated in revenues but because the town forever designated it, "Slobody Farm Conservation Area."

He wanted the family surname to live on, as should he.

Monday, January 16, 2017

2nd Time The Charm?

Town Meeting revotes $67 million Wildwood Building Project end of this month

Twenty years ago the $22 million Amherst Regional High School expansion easily passed Town Meeting but was defeated by the voters at the ballot box, although it did pass months later in the second attempt.

Around that same time the $4 million Town Hall renovation twice passed overwhelmingly in Town Meeting but was twice defeated by the voters at the ballot box.

So what are the odds Town Meeting will pass the $67 million Mega School bond issue on January 30th in this second attempt to get the required two-thirds vote?

About as likely as Donald Trump getting a rousing ovation from Democrats at his inauguration on Friday.

While theoretically Town Meeting is only voting on the financing of the project it's impossible not to be influenced by the education plan which restructures our entire elementary school system.

Maria's Folly of two co-located grades 2-6 under one roof will simply never have the appeal of the current system of three K-6 neighborhood schools.

A professional survey of parents and teachers taken a week before the School Committee approved the Mega School showed overwhelming support for two co-located grades K-6 under one roof allowing Crocker Farm to remain K-6.

Survey results

Of course now Town Meeting will be told that teachers have changed their minds and overwhelmingly support the current education plan represented by the $67 million Mega School.

Really?  Or is it simply this expensive plan is now better than nothing?

What about the obvious pressure employees must feel when someone asks them to sign a petition endorsing the wishes of your boss?  Especially when they come up to you with a clipboard and mention that you are "on the list."  Which is fine I suppose, if the person asking is named Schindler.

 Click to enlarge/read

The other pressure tactic used is to suggest Town Meeting will face retaliation for not upholding "the will of the voters." Except the will demonstrated by voters on November 8 was about as wishy washy as will gets:

Out of the 15,089 votes cast 1,571 (10.4%) left the Mega School question blank.  So the overall vote carried by only 45.21% in favor to 44.38% against or less than a majority.  So yes, it won by 122 votes, or less than 1%, which is light years away from a two-thirds majority.

And even then you have to wonder about the in-house audit of two precincts that showed 29 ballots double counted.

If/when Town Meeting fails to muster a two-thirds vote for the Mega School on January 30, town officials need to admit defeat and return to the drawing board with a hard learned lesson about what the people really want. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Replacing Maria

Maria Geryk at 3/31 Finance Committee meeting with Mike Morris, Sean Mangano (just before the fall)

A joint meeting of the Amherst Pelham Regional School Committee and Union 26 voted unanimously to hire Ray & Associates as a head hunter search consultant to have a new Superintendent in place by July 1st, the start of the FY 18 fiscal year.

The winning bid was $17,000 but it was not the lowest one as the only other bidder (at $14,000) could not handle the ambitious timeline of the Request For Proposals.

Ray & Associates was founded in 1975 and currently has 170 "associates" who make up the firm.  Dr. Michael Rush put on a masterful homespun performance at the January 10th meeting  and assured committee members his company's final short list of candidates would not embarrass his firm or the Region.

Dr. Michael Rush presents to Region-Union 26 on January 10th

Which of course is a good thing considering how embarrassing the demise of Maria Geryk played out before a w-i-d-e audience, which of course will be available to potential candidates via a simple Google search.

So at least they will know full well what they are getting themselves into.

Dr. Rush will interview by phone all school committee members in the next few days and he will return to Amherst on January 23rd and 24th to hold stakeholder interviews with teacher, PTOs, Lions/Rotary Clubs, etc and his firm will also provide an online survey available for any member of the general public.

The deadline for potential candidates is March 3 and based on his firm's 40 year experience he initially expects 70 respondents, which they will whittle down to 8-12 for presentation to the School Committee via one way video and then narrowed down to two or three for a final in-person interview.

He suggested the School Committees choose a new Superintendent by March 27 so they can give plenty of notice to their current District before relocating to Amherst for July 1st.

Salary is of course a major carrot so the Committee will have to quickly decide a range to be included in the nationwide search which is expected to cost an additional $10,000 to $15,000 in advertising.

Safe bet the proposed salary will continue to keep the Superintendent's position as the highest paid in town, even though they "do it for the kids."

Friday, January 13, 2017

Electric First

The new bus looks pretty much like its diesel counterparts

The cool new electric bus has been inspected and registered so it can go into service next week carting Amherst elementary school children back and forth with less noise, pollution and annual maintenance costs.

The bus is owned by Amherst since the state grant was given to the Elementary  schools -- not the Region -- although it is stored at the Amherst Regional Middle School.

But Amherst does make up roughly 80% of the Region.  Since the bus is limited to about 70 miles per charge it would not be overly practical for the Region which is spread out over four towns (some of them pretty hilly).

The state awarded us a $400,000 grant to acquire the bus which of course is four times more than the internal combustion counterparts, so not a great bet the town or Region will be buying a fleet of them in the near future.

Town Meeting approved spending $93,000 for a traditional diesel bus last Spring which is now unnecessary, so maybe when the "independent analysis" of AFD staffing comes back later this month suggesting a much needed increase, that $93K could help make it happen sooner rather than later.

A Question Of Priorities

 Town Manager submits dog bites man budget

All you need to know about rookie Town Manager Paul Bockelman's FY18 budget is the underlined statement in his letter of transmittal:  No additional staff positions are proposed.

In other words AFD will continue to run pretty much full time on "brown out" relying on surrounding full time professional departments to assist with their routine life and death duties.

Of course Mr. Bockelman does state, "Any decisions regarding staffing changes in Fire and EMS await results of an independent analysis, due in February."

But if/when that study reveals the need for more staffing we have to wait until next year to make it happn. Thus leaving the town open to a negligence lawsuit if a tragic incident like what happened recently in Holyoke should occur.

 Employee Benefits and Capital are hidden costs of the White Elephant golf course

Yet his budget does show continued tax support for the Cherry Hill Golf Course of $68,749 and $392,143 for Leisure Services and Supplemental Education or a total tax expenditure of $460,892 on recreation.

 LSSE budget.  Click to enlarge/read

Maybe at the next major structure fire, when Engine 1 arrives with only one firefighter aboard as happened on June 4th, we can call in a caddie or yoga instructor to assist.

UPDATE 10:00 AM 

Coincidentally enough the town announced the retirement this morning of long time LSSE Director Linda Chalfant.  Rather than replacing her they should simple nix the entire department and use about half of the $400K projected in tax support next year to supply vouchers to town residents good at area private recreation/sports operations. 

Engine 1 (top left) was first on scene but with only the driver
Northampton FD ambulance on scene The Arbors yesterday to assist AFD