Mostly bad news

Just back from a couple of days in Boston at the Massachusetts Municipal Association annual meeting and trade show.  Got a little preview of what Governor Patrick will announce with the release of his budget Wednesday.

No doubt you saw some articles about this already.  The broad strokes are that Chapter 70 education money will not get a mid-year cut and will be level-funded for FY10.  That's the good news.  (And level funding is only good news compared to less than level-funding.)  The bad news is that the massive mid-year cuts will need to come from everywhere else, including local aid through lottery funds and additional assistance. Because some lottery aid also goes to education, the schools won't be untouched, but will be in better shape than if Chapter 70 got whacked.  John Musante is projecting that mid-year cuts for Amherst will be about $1 million. 

Things get even worse in FY10.  I don't want to get any of the details wrong, so I'll refrain from explaining what I understood John's projections to be, and you'll be hearing plenty about that from him and Larry shortly.  But one bit of good (or less bad) news on the FY10 front is that the Governor will propose a new version of his Municipal Partnership Act, again seeking to give communities the option to levy a meals tax and increase local hotel taxes.  It also includes a provision to increase the State meals tax by another penny per dollar, and to distribute most of that money to municipalities via the lottery aid distribution formula.  Amherst fares well in the lottery formula, which means that cuts to lottery aid hit us particularly hard (see mid year cuts above,) but it also means that such a distribution of increased meals tax funds would be favorable to us.  If this were to pass and be implemented quickly, it would be a significant off-set to our FY10 local aid reduction.  But that is a big "if."

If you haven't seen it, the full-text of the Governor's prepared remarks to MMA is here. (Scroll down a little.)

In other news, the Town Manager's FY10 budget has been announced, and is available here.  Bear in mind that it is based on much earlier State aid projections, and does not reflect any of the new information above.  So to whatever degree one might think it doesn't look so bad, know that it will soon look worse.  The Select Board held a special meeting Wednesday, 1/21, to discuss the summary of this budget proposal (the full document wasn't available until that afternoon) and will hold another such single-issue FY10 budget meeting on Wednesday, 2/25.  And in the meantime, expect a whole lot of budget discussion at our regular Monday meetings, including updates on the FY09 budget on 1/26. 

With so much in flux for FY10, there isn't much to say about the proposed budget in its current form, except that it is as good of a starting place as we could hope for under these circumstances. 


Other random notes:

  One of the neat parts about the MMA conference was learning about how other places do stuff.  I was particularly interested in how some towns specify expectations for the role, responsibilities and behavior of Select Board members.  This helps clarify some of what is otherwise ambiguous and self-defined.  There was also interesting information about goal setting and performance evaluation - for the Town Manager and for the Select Board.  It feels good to know that we are moving in the right direction on this stuff, and I am glad that there are some effective models out there for us to use as guidance.

  A couple of the meeting sessions began with the Pledge of Allegiance.   (Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore....)

  I went to Mark's Meadow for several elementary school years, but I mostly grew up on the Cape.  At the conference, I ran into one person who was a year ahead of me in high school and is now on the Town Council there.  I also ran into someone from my class who is a Selectman in another town.  He had earlier seen two of our other classmates - one is an Assistant Town Administrator in a different town, and the other was at a booth in the trade show section, marketing a product to cities and towns.  Small world.  Either that, or we had some kind of subliminal municipal service curriculum.

  Something that is a big deal in a lot of places:  women on the Select Board.  A lot of stories from folks who have none, have had few, want to have more, etc.  Nice to have that be a total non-issue here.

  The MMA has an article on its web site about our Facilitation of Community Choices Committee and report.  That piece will also run in the February edition of the MMA's newsletter, The Beacon. 

  Nothing to do with MMA, but good news I just learned tonight:  ACTV now has meetings on demand.  I don't know when it started or how long it takes to get meetings posted, but what a valuable and fantastic development.  Thank you ACTV!!  With web video and on-line SB packets, this site may become totally obsolete.  (Especially if I don't step up my post frequency...)        


Mary Carey said:

Yay, meetings on demand, and I'm not being sarcastic. I hope that includes School Committee!

Jonathan said:

Mary - It does include School Committee. Five local and regional SC meetings going back to Dec. 2 are already available.

Rob said:

The following was sent by a friend in the rail-trail business the other week; he decried the paucity of trail projects in Massachusetts, despite many which are "shovel-ready"! It may now be a bit stale, but it pertains to my remarks at your meeting last night:

To reiterate, it's not that we need to spend *additional* money on these alternative transportation projects, but rather it's that if we plan carefully, then we can design projects which meet a broader range of transportation needs (in Amherst that might mean, for example, including bus pulloffs or bike-friendly shoulders and curbing as we repave; or installing sidewalks in heavily travelled outlying areas, rather than another round of "fancy" ones downtown). By seeking to create a more sustainable transportation infrastructure with these (potential) stimulus/recovery funds, we not only have a better chance of being awarded the funds in the first place, but we are also may actually improve things in the long run....



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