Voters approve funds for roadwork funds; Amherst town operating budget increased by $200K

AMHERST – Residents at the annual town Deliberative Session on Wednesday, Feb. 8, voted to spend more money on road maintenance, amending the town’s operating budget to add $200,000 for that purpose.

The extra road maintenance money was suggested by the Ways & Means Committee. Several residents spoke in favor of the budget change, with George Bower saying it’s "penny-wise and pound-foolish" to defer maintenance because it costs many times more to reconstruct a road than to maintain it.

Ways & Means Chairman John D’Angelo said the committee also recommended a sizable road bond, but selectmen want to defer that decision for a year or two until a $15 million road bond from 2010 is paid off.

Although the committee recommended the budget unanimously, with D’Angelo saying it’s the result of an "open, transparent and collaborative" process, its members aren’t sold on one line item: another patrol officer for the Police Department.

Amherst "has much less crime than nearby towns and much lower property crime and violent crime," D’Angelo said.

Ways & Means does recommend Article 24, which covers cost items in a three-year police contract. Selectman Nat Jensen said police wages are 7 percent lower than those of nearby communities.

The committee also recommends the town look into hiring a human resources professional and investigate less expensive health and dental insurance.

An amendment to raise tax exemptions for the elderly, blind and disabled further than the amounts in Article 33 failed, and so did an amendment that would have made the exemption for the blind equal to the amount for the disabled.

Resident Linda Kaiser said the town should take better care of its elderly.

"We are not being overly generous. Not everyone has a fancy retirement plan," she said, and noted the schools will spend any amount on a disabled child.

Selectmen Peter Lyon said the intent of the article is to merely adjust the exemptions to keep them in line with townwide property reassessments.

A $70,000 article for Forest View Cemetery, essentially a housekeeping item, would allow cemetery trustees to begin construction of gravesites. Several years ago, the change of use for the former recreation fields on Merrimack Road sparked intense opposition.

Bower said the town should learn how much of the property is in a flood plain.

Also on the ballot for the March elections will be several articles that add to capital reserve funds – for bridge repair and replacement, a town computer system, fire rescue vehicles and other needs.

Article 23 would establish a contingency fund and put in it $150,000 coming from the undesignated fund balance (surplus). There would be no tax impact. Board Chairman Dwight Brew said the town might need the money for costs connected with federal stormwater mandates.

The tax impact of the $13,389,000 million town budget and all warrant articles is estimated to be $5.53 per thousand of assessed value, or $1,947 on an average house valued at $352,000.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or