Amherst Finance Committee Tackles Reparations Fund Allocation

The Amherst Finance Committee’s virtual meeting on June 18th, 2024, was dominated by a debate on the future of the town’s reparations fund, with a focus on the method and timeline for funding and distributing the allocated monies. The committee considered multiple funding options, including the use of cannabis tax revenue, and scrutinized the implications of these choices on the town’s financial stability and commitments.

A significant portion of the meeting was devoted to discussing the reparations fund, which currently holds a balance of $476,000. The central issue was whether to treat the fund as an endowment or to enact a spend-down approach, potentially accelerating the pace at which payments are made from the fund. Several scenarios for funding and distributing the reparations fund were reviewed, with options including making distributions every other year and dedicating a share of the cannabis tax revenue to the fund.

The committee members expressed varying viewpoints on the approach to funding the reparations fund, particularly concerning the use of cannabis tax revenue. While some members supported allocating 100% of cannabis tax revenue to the fund, concerns were raised about the impact on taxpayers and the town’s budget, especially given the fluctuating nature of cannabis tax income. Additionally, the potential use of other funding sources outlined in a KP law memo, such as free cash or Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds, was discussed, along with limitations on distributing funds to individuals without legislation.

The meeting also addressed the need for a structured process for spending from the fund and the implications of the KP law opinion received on May 10th. Questions were raised regarding the focus of the fund and the necessity for further discussion on the options provided in the KP law opinion.

In terms of the process for appropriations, the committee noted that the town council must vote on both appropriations and expenditures. They deliberated over whether to fund projects all at once or through annual or biennial appropriations. The possibility of creating a special purpose stabilization fund pursuant to an override approved by voters at a poll each year was considered, alongside the potential requirement for a vote at the polls and the implications for taxes.

The committee members engaged in discussions about the different funding options and their potential impacts on taxpayers and the stability of the fund. One suggestion was to model the funding process after the Community Preservation Act, with a budgeted amount each year, rather than spending the total accumulation. Debate ensued over the timeline for accumulating the $2 million and whether the fund should be treated as a perpetual endowment or spent down to zero.

Beyond the reparations fund, the committee touched upon the funding for Esser Elementary School, with concerns about the school’s budget for the next year in the absence of one-time funding. The allocation of cannabis tax revenue was a point of contention, with suggestions ranging from an annual review to a more formalized process. The possibility of private donors supplementing the fund was mentioned, though a note of caution was raised regarding the management of private funds outside of the town’s control.

The meeting also involved discussions around a letter from the Amherst Town Council to the regional school committee regarding the FY 26 budget. The letter stressed the need for a 4% increase and the importance of initiating the budget process early. There was a proposal to share the letter with the finance committees of the other three towns, emphasizing that the 4% increase would be challenging due to one-time funding.

Lastly, the committee considered a letter to the school committee, debating its wording and financial parameters. A motion was made to recommend the letter with changes and submit it to the council for consideration. Additionally, a farewell was offered to a departing member and plans for the next meeting on July 2nd were discussed.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.
Town Manager:
Paul Brockelman
Financial Oversight Board Officials:
Mandi Jo Hanneke, Robert Hegner, Cathy Schoen, Andy Steinberg, Ellisha Walker, Bernard Kubiak, Matt Holloway, HOLLY DRAKE (Comptroller & Co-Interim Finance Director), JENNIFER LAFOUNTAIN (Treasurer/Collector & Co-Interim Finance Director)

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