Amherst Select Board votes to recommend higher alcohol fines
The Town of Amherst Select Board voted unanimously last night to recommend raising fines for drinking-related bylaws to the state maximum of $300 at the annual Town Meeting this spring.
The item was raised in response to a recommendation by the Campus and Community Coalition to Reduce High-Risk Drinking (CCC). The CCC suggested raising fines in an open letter to the Select Board last week, which stated that “raising fines for violations of the Keg Licensing Bylaw, Open Container Bylaw, Nuisance House Bylaw and Noise Bylaw to the state-allowed maximum of $300 for each offense will offer a stronger deterrent” towards dangerous drinking.
The letter went on to note that many of the current fine levels were instituted in the 1980s, when $50- or $100-fines had a larger relative value than today thanks to inflation.
“Meaningful fines offer law enforcement an additional strategy for addressing problem behaviors without causing the recipient to have a criminal record,” said the letter.
Speaking at the meeting was resident John Coull, a former member of the CCC and father of Select Board Chair Stephanie O’Keeffe, who seconded the notion that stricter fines were necessary to curb high-risk drinking habits in Amherst.
While many in the town’s student community have long questioned the fairness of the bylaws and the selective manner in which they are often applied, no students showed up at the Select Board meeting Monday night to protest, or support, raising the fines.
Amherst resident David Abrami was the lone voice of public dissent at the meeting, noting the one-sided nature of the bylaws, and the often-unheralded toll they have on the student population of the town.
“I challenge the Select Board to engage in more relevant discussions about the bylaws,” said Abrami, after the meeting. “Young people are unaware of their rights and bullied by the police, who are enforcing bylaws that I think no one in our community truly understands.”
“I think a lot of it can be worked out at the Town Meeting deliberations,” said Coull, speaking after the meeting. He noted that “the increases are mathematically sound,” as long as they are used in a lawful manner. “I like the idea that fines can eliminate the need for arrest … Students should not have to carry a criminal record [for these issues].”
A number of members of the Select Board suggested that the issue would be debated more thoroughly at the Town Meeting, which begins May 3.
“We need to know we are asking the right questions at Town Meeting,” said Select Board member Alisa Brewer.
“Hopefully, we can have a representative from the Amherst Police Department answering questions for the next time there is a vote,” said Select Board member Gerald Weiss, so that voters can better understand “what possible [factors can result in] an arrest, and the factors that lead to this.”
Nick Bush can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.