WE ARE HOMETOWN NEWS.

AMHERST — Town Manager Paul Bockelman officially presented his proposed $97 million fiscal year 2025 budget to the Amherst Town Council during the May 6 meeting.

The budget, which Bockelman first introduced to the public on May 1, includes a 3.6% increase from the current FY24 budget of $93.9 million and features an overall commitment to climate action, community health and safety, racial equity, economic vitality and housing affordability.

“My job in presenting the budget is to maintain our strong financial position as a town, and that means we have a balanced budget that’s funded by recurring revenue,” Bockelman said, during the meeting.

The budget features an overall commitment to climate action, community health and safety, racial equity, economic vitality and housing affordability, according to the budget proposal.

It includes a 4% increase for the town’s elementary schools at $26.9 million, a 4% increase for its municipal operations at $28.3 million, and a 4% increase toward Jones Library at $2.3 million.

The budget also calls for 10.5% of the overall tax levy — or $7.9 million — to go toward capital needs.

Former Amherst Finance Director Sandy Pooler, who is working part-time to help during Amherst’s budget season, said that the overall increase of 3.6% is very typical of what Amherst budget increases are from year to year.

He noted how the town is allocating $1.3 million for road and sidewalk work and emphasized a lot of climate action highlights like how the town created a separate department for sustainability and how they allocated $250,000 for energy efficiency and sustainability improvements in the capital plan.

Pooler also noted how no new positions were added in the budget outside of two inspections positions, which will cost $145,000, for the town’s Rental Registration program.

The part of the budget that caused outcry during the public comment section of the meeting is Bockelman’s proposal to have a 4 % increase for schools at $18.4 million, instead of the 6% increase the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee voted on for Amherst’s portion of the budget back on April 24.

If the 6% increase passed, it would add $355,440 to the regional schools’ portion of the budget on top of the $710,881 that is already allocated in the 4% increase.

According to Bockelman’s budget proposal, the proposed 6% increase by the school committee is beyond the capacity of the current budget and cannot be met without either reducing other aspects of the budget, utilizing one-time money or seeking an operation budget override of Proposition 2½.

None of these options, however, are feasible, according to the proposal.

The budget summary also states that, while additional revenues are always needed, “the paramount challenge lies in aligning the operations of the school district with the available revenue streams to sustain chosen programs.”

According to the budget proposal, ESSER funds from the COVID-19 pandemic that were used on day-to-day operations were not a recurring revenue stream and have now been exhausted.

“It’s going to be a challenging year for us,” Bockelman said, when referring to the schools.

During the May 6 meeting, Bockelman made it clear how there will be very serious conversations moving forward around the school district. He said those conversations will have to involve union representatives, other towns and the Amherst Town Council.

“It’s not a one-year outlook,” Bockelman said. “I think that’s where the conversation has to focus on as we talk about the regional school district. This year is one thing, but what about year two, year three and year four going forward?”

Many residents spoke in favor of the school committee’s 6% increase during public comment, including Bridget Hynes, a district 5 Amherst Regional School District representative, who argued that there are gaps in areas like algebra and geometry that need to be filled through proper funding.

“We’re in the middle of an exceptionally difficult time for students, teachers and schools,” Hynes said. “We felt strongly as a committee that any level below that would not allow us to uphold the mission and goals at the heart of the regional school district to inclusive excellence.”

Amrita Rutter, a senior at Amherst Regional High School and one of the co-hub leads of Amherst Sunrise, said that budget cuts to schools would be devastating.

“I can see it in my teachers’ eyes; I can hear it in the halls as friends talk of their families moving from the district if the budget passes,” Rutter said. “I can feel it in the building.”

Some members of the council, including District 4 Councilor Jennifer Taub, said they would support helping the schools find the necessary funding to reach 6%.

“Recognizing that we have to also look to the shortfall we’re facing in years ahead, I do hope we can find the resources to meet the requests from the school committee,” Taub said.

A public hearing on the budget will occur May 21.

rfeyre@thereminder.com | + posts