Alisa V. Brewer's blog

Haven't met Alisa yet? Come to the Cowls Kitchen Design Center Showroom on Wednesday!

Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce March After5 is this Wednesday March 21st from 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm.

Hosted by Cowls Building Supply at its new design showroom, 125 Sunderland Road, North Amherst.

Enjoy the monthly Amherst Area Chamber party with the additional opportunity to meet and mingle with all three candidates for two seats on the Amherst Select Board.

Network and enjoy delectable hors d'oeuvres catered by the Black Sheep Deli, and some special libations, while exploring Cowls' new Kitchen-Bath-Windows-Doors Design Showroom.

This month's sponsor Peter Jessop and his staff from Integrity Development and Construction will be on hand to discuss your building and remodeling ideas.

Special Guests: Amherst Select Board candidates will be mingling and available to answer questions pertinent to the upcoming Amherst election on March 27.

$5 Admission payable at the door.

RSVP to the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce 413-253-0700 or info@amherstarea.com

Clipping Service: Tuesday March 27 Town-wide Election

The Sunday Republican, Sunday, March 18, 2007

Challenger, incumbents eye slots
By DIANE LEDERMAN dlederman@repub.com

AMHERST - Alisa V. Brewer has a year left on her School Committee term
but opted to run for the Select Board now because "I feel the current
board is not functioning well and not heading in the right direction."

But incumbents Robie Hubley and Gerald S. Weiss think the board is
working well, and both are seeking to keep their seats in the March 27
election.

Hubley in a letter to constituents announcing his re-election bid wrote
that he finds "great satisfaction in working on behalf of the people of
Amherst. Amherst is a work in progress, and I want to continue to
contribute."

Weiss said he feels it's his obligation to serve on this democratic
form of government he believes in. And, he said, "three years is not
enough for my turn on the Select Board." Being on the board, he said,
really requires two terms.

Brewer felt having been on the Comprehensive Planning Committee as well
as the School Committee gave her "a good sense of what the Select Board
does and what could be done."

She waited for other people to make a bid for a seat, and when others
didn't come forward - only David T. Keenan took out papers but did not
file them - she felt, "I'm willing to do this."

Brewer feels the board spends too much time focusing on the small
things - belaboring them "at the expense of something else." She feels
the board instead needs to look more at policy and let Town Manager
Laurence R. Shaffer do what he was hired to do.

She believes that the board should have dealt with budget problems
earlier. She said the board knew there was a structural deficit and
could have been looking at ways to help fix it in the fall and not
leave discussions about an override until now, which she feels is too
late in the budget process.

The town for the last several years has used reserves to balance the
budget, but with reserves dwindling, town officials are opposing the
use of any more reserves. Instead, voters will be asked to support a
Proposition 2½ override combined with limiting budgets.

She is also frustrated about the delay in setting the amount of the
override.

The Select Board on Monday agreed to place a ballot question with a
$2.5 million figure but is also pondering whether to ask voters to
consider a lesser amount as well. The board is expected to make that
decision at its meeting tomorrow.

Brewer said she supports the Finance Committee recommendations. The
committee is recommending a $2.5 million override and a three-year plan
that sets budget guidelines for the next three fiscal years. While she
said some people are frustrated knowing the town will face a deficit at
the end of the plan, officials will have three years to figure out what
to do.

She also wants the board to take on more of a leadership role when it
comes to advising Town Meeting. "Town Meeting likes to be able to look
to the Select Board to tell us what to do. The Select Board is hesitant
to take on the role," she said. The board will present opinions on
articles the night an article is considered, and she would rather know
board positions earlier on so the meeting can weigh the various
perspectives.

The Finance Committee typically issues recommendations in a report to
Town Meeting before the meeting begins.

Hubley sees his role on the Select Board as one who can listen to
people and bring disparate groups together. Hubley was first elected in
October of 2003 replacing Eddy Goldberg, who resigned. He won a full
term the following spring.

He believes that the board has taken on a leadership role with budgets
and is proactive. He said last year the board suggested holding budgets
to just 2 percent but that didn't hold. He believes there will have to
be cuts this year in addition to finding new sources of income and
charging for services it hasn't had to charge for in the past.

He also believes that there are services that have been provided but
that "we can't afford to do now." He was referring to some leisure
service activities.

Hubley supports offering voters the chance to consider a $1.5 million
override for the fiscal 2008. He said those that support any kind of
override support a $1 million to $2 million override. He believes the
town could come back next year again if needed. "I don't think it's a
big deal to come back next year. ... We have to make a new budget."
He's afraid that voters will reject a higher amount. He said at a
recent Select Board meeting that voters would be more likely to support
a $1.5 million override "because they can afford it."

Of his accomplishments, he said he helped negotiate the new mutual aid
agreement with the University of Massachusetts, which opened the door
to more police cooperation between the town and the university.

"I've been wrangling my way into commercial development, trying to find
out what makes people characterize Amherst as negative on business,"
Hubley said.

He and Weiss have been meeting with the Amherst Area Chamber of
Commerce government affairs committee to help bridge the gulf between
business and Town Hall. "Part of the trouble is each one has
stereotyped the other. There certainly are common interests."

"One of my primary goals has been to build bridges," Weiss said. He
said he has been able to bring together groups of "people who haven't
traditionally worked together" and pointed out the Chamber of Commerce
and Town Hall.

He said from attending Promote Downtown Amherst meetings, he "learned
just how frustrated the businesses were with the inspection process,"
even before Shaffer began working to make the process more efficient.
Hubley, too, has been involved in seeing that the process is resolved.

Weiss believes that increasing commercial development is part of the
answer to helping the town deal with budget issues.

He believes that promoting the kind of housing that Hampshire College
has initiated is also important in that regard. The college has signed
a development agreement with Beacon Communities Development of Boston
to build a 120-unit residential community on college land aimed at
people 50 and older. The clustered housing would include a mix of
townhouses and flats located on about 20 acres.

He said Amherst will never be the kind of community attracting the
so-called Big Box stores.

Weiss said the board had discussed cutting budgets last year but said
"we probably should have done (more). We weren't very forceful," he
said.

He doesn't see it as his job to promote an override. "My position is to
represent the whole (town)." He said he will be clear, however, about
the cuts that would be necessary without an override.

He also believes the Select Board needs to "push Larry" when it comes
to diversifying who works for the town.

Shaffer recently announced that Human Rights Director Eunice Torres
will be moved to the Human Resources Department to serve more of the
internal needs of the town rather than responding to complaints.

Shaffer said the purpose is to recruit and select employees who would
enhance the town's diversity.

Weiss said that was a good start. But, he said, "we have a lot of work
to do."

TOMORROW: The School Committee candidates.

Current Select Board hesitation on the override question and override amount

Both local papers covered last night's Select Board meeting (I attached the full text of the articles below as the specific links often expire). Both articles mention current Select Board member Robie Hubley citing a small questionnaire that current Town Meeting member Nancy Gordon sent out to about 300 people.

Something worth noting: working with the assumption that this is definitely along the lines of an interesting "questionnaire," not a "survey," in terms of large scale representation (I am especially sensitive to that concept since the Comprehensive Planning Committee is working *very* carefully to ensure the community survey for the Master Plan is very carefully designed and executed), I read these results as:

300 sent
150 approx returned
55/150 said no override
35/150 said $1m override
33/150 said $3m override
8/150 said $6m override

which I say indicates 37% (55/150) said no overrride, while 51% (76/150) would support an override of $1m or more. I really don't see the connection between these results and lack of support for an override!

Daily Hampshire Gazette, Tuesday March 6, 2007

Amherst Select Board in no hurry to make override decision
BY MARY CAREY STAFF WRITER

AMHERST - Select Board members still have a lot of questions for the Finance Committee about a proposed May 1 tax levy override.

But they agreed Monday to confirm by March 19, or possibly March 12, whether the levy will even call for an override and, if so, how much it should be.

The Finance Committee has recommended $2.5 million, combined with a three-year spending plan, cuts and a commitment from town officials not to request another override for three years.

School Committee members have said they endorse the Finance Committee's proposal and moreover would like to know as soon as possible how big an override the Select Board will agree to.

But Select Board members said they are in no great hurry to arrive at a figure. They also said they would take into consideration a suggestion by Town Meeting member Vincent O'Connor that they postpone the May 1 date. That would give the Legislature more time to deliberate on how much state aid would be coming to cities and towns, O'Connor said.

O'Connor also advocates that some high-level town officials and administrators who support a May 1 override agree to resign if an override on that date fails.

Select Board members did not explicitly endorse or reject that proposal. Member Robie Hubley argued that the board should set an override at $1.5 million to shore up a projected $3.7 million shortfall in the coming year's spending plan. Generating projections beyond one year amount to "pure vapor," he said.

Hubley is not sure a larger override would pass, citing a survey he said Town Meeting member Nancy Gordon recently conducted. She sent out 300 questionnaires to a random sampling of residents, about half of which were returned. Fifty-five people said they would not support any override, Hubley said. Thirty-five said they would support a $1 million override; thirty-three would support a $3 million override; and eight respondents said they would support a $6 million override.

Hubley also argued in favor of delaying a decision on the size of the override as long as possible. A decision has to be made by March 26, a night the board is scheduled to meet. But because the town elections are the next day, Anne Awad, the board chairwoman, said the decision should be made at the board's meeting a week before.

A week can make a huge difference, said Hubley, who is up for re-election. "There's no way in the world you can predict what's going to happen by Monday," he said. "Something has happened virtually every week since I've been alive."

Board member Hwei-Ling Greeney's chief concern is budgeting so that the town isn't facing a $2.4 million shortfall four years after an override passes. The Finance Committee has projected that could happen, if other revenues weren't secured in the meantime.

Member Gerald Weiss, who is also up for re-election, advocated for deciding sooner rather than later, to give the schools more time to refine their financial projections. He would also like to see a commitment to not raise the tax levy to the full extent allowable in the event an override passes, if the town comes into more money in the meantime.

Possible sources of revenue include a hoped-for payment of $500,000 by the University of Massachusetts for fire services and more local aid from the state. Member Robert Kusner argued that the town could press for a larger override than $2.5 million but make a commitment to not collect all of it the first year. Only Awad did not reveal what she is thinking about an override.
................................................................................

The Republican, Tuesday March 6, 2007

Select Board examining budget override options
By DIANE LEDERMAN dlederman@repub.com

AMHERST - While the Finance Committee has reaffirmed its recommendation for a $2.5 million Proposition 2½ override, the Select Board last night began reviewing whether it will propose that or another amount at the May 1 special election.

The Select Board has until March 26 to set the dollar amount. That's the night before the annual town election, a night on which the board usually does not meet.

The Finance Committee proposal also includes a three-year spending plan of limiting budgets to 3 percent for fiscal 2008; 5.5 percent for fiscal 2009, and 5.6 percent for fiscal 2010. The plan proposes the need for raising additional revenue.

Select Board members last night questioned those proposed hikes and also talked about requesting a lesser amount on the special election ballot.

Board member Robie Hubley proposed a $1.5 million figure. He said that Town Meeting member Nancy M. Gordon had mailed out about 300 letters to residents asking about an override. Of those who responded, 55 wanted no override, 35 would support a $1 million override and 33 a $3 million override. "There's a strong public sentiment against (a large override)," he said.

Board member Gerald S. Weiss agreed that the lower number, the greater the chance for the town to pass an override.

Board member Hwei-Ling T. Greeney wanted to look at cutting the general government budget before deciding on an amount.

Town Manager Laurence R. Shaffer has proposed a budget within 1 percent in keeping with initial Finance Committee guidelines. He also has prepared a list of things he wants restored if there is additional money. High on his list are restoration of public safety cuts - five firefighters and two police officers - and the hiring of an economic development director.

Select Board Chairwoman Anne S. Awad said the board could think of holding budgets to 1 percent even with an override. "Part of the plan is to rebuild reserves," she said.

Greeney also was concerned with the Finance Committee's proposal because of a projected $2.4 million deficit in 2011 and asked whether the budget increases proposed by the Finance Committee are too high.

Finance Committee Chairwoman Alice A. Carlozzi said the 5.5 percent increases would allow the town to "keep up with services" and might not cover inflation and increasing costs. "The idea (of the proposal) was to make it stringent," she said.

Voters approved a $2 million override in 2004. At that election, voters opposed a $2.5 million override question.

Current Select Board support of economic development

Today's Daily Hampshire Gazette Around Town about the recent email exchange and Amherst Parent Coalition listserv posting.

Making information available and accessibile to all has always been one of my key themes, ever since I interned at a private non-profit landlord/tenant resource center as an undergrad at Michigan State University. Yet as much as I love being able to write email in the spaces when a phone call or personal meeting wouldn't fit due to all of our busy schedules, I have to wonder if the convenience of the Internet is sometimes influencing anything other than people's level of anger with one another.

Current Select Board support of economic development

I do not agree that the current Select Board has done significant work on economic development, and various Town Website and Interactive Database votes show that current Select Board members have not supported many incremental changes that would have improved our economy.

An article in today's Republican is more about defensiveness than about substance.

Is it just us?

Is it just us? No, Massachusetts also ties the hands of our neighbors in 350 other communities. Great new report mentioned in today's Boston Globe:
Patrick seeks tax freedom for cities, towns By Matt Viser, Globe Staff | February 14, 2007

Governor Deval Patrick's administration is preparing a push to give Massachusetts cities and towns more freedom to raise taxes and fees, as a new report suggests Boston will lose talent and businesses to other similarly-sized cities because it is hamstrung by state constraints.

Check out the Boston Bound Executive Summary from The Boston Foundation

Thanks to Ron M for bringing this to the attention of the Amherst Parent Coalition!

Coming Attractions!

Alisa's Blog is your first stop until we fill in more of the left-hand pages. Thanks for coming by! More soon!

No one thing is going to solve all our problems!

The aerial photo of downtown (at the incomplete Concern for Local Economy) is kinda ugly at first glance, but anyone who's spent time in our downtown knows how wonderfully walkable it is! Increasing density downtown is still possible, because in addition to redevelopment (Via Via, anyone?) we can still go *up* -- without having inappropriate skyscrapers looming over us!

There's been a lot of talk lately about the amount of tax revenue increased commercial activity might generate. Some hope "increased economic development" will solve all our problems. Some say "increased economic development" is nearly pointless because it only brings in small increases (although it's rarely mentioned that those small increases, year after year, do add up -- just like our structural deficit!).

I'm here to say NOTHING is going to solve ALL our problems -- but that doesn't mean *do* nothing, that means we don't just depend on *one thing*! If we had a nickel for every person who's said the "real" solution is to increase state aid to communities, we'd have a lot of nickels, but we've seen no result from the folks who say we need to lobby the state. The only exception I am aware of is the wonderful parents and other community members who pulled together last spring to convince the Ways and Means Committees that we needed to not *reduce* the FY07 budget any more than was already being done!

Increasing efficiency and communication between inspector and permitting services is critical to keeping our small business community thriving, and it's great we're finally focusing on that. Again, fixing that *one thing* will not be enough to solve all our problems. We also need to believe that small steps toward allowing things like multiple clients to a professional research park will not end life as we know it in our beloved small town, but instead give our local businesspeople that little bit of room they need in order to develop and grow *our* local economy, not just stay in their home offices or get space in a neighboring community.

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