The Amherst Town Council held a public meeting at the University of Massachusetts’ Old Chapel on Wednesday to discuss various issues and to hear concerns from students.
Amherst currently has a councilor-manager form of government, in which there are five districts with two precincts per district. Each district has two councilors, with an additional three at-large councilors, totaling to 13 councilors.
During the meeting, Town Manager Paul Bockelman, District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam, District 4 Councilor Evan Ross, District 4 Councilor Steve Schreiber and District 3 Councilor George Ryan were given time to speak on projects they are working on or wanted students to know about.
In his allotted speaking time, Bockelman described Amherst as a “split-personality” town in how it holds both college students and long-term residents.
“We seem to straddle these two worlds, sometimes with grace, sometimes with tension,” he said.
Bockelman also described the town’s “dire need” for several capital investments, including the replacement of two elementary schools, a new fire station, a new Department of Public Works building and renovations to the Jones Library. These projects are currently being proposed and explored by the town.
Later in the meeting, Ross spoke on efforts the town is making against climate change and toward sustainability. The District 4 Councilor, who is also a lecturer in the UMass College of Natural Sciences, helped form the Energy and Climate Action Committee in January. According to Ross, the committee was founded to “create some actual goals the town can organize around , figure out planning on how we can get to those goals and figure out what policies and programs are needed to actually reach them.”
The goals established by the committee are “a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, carbon neutral by 2050 but with the middle goal of trying to lay the groundwork to be carbon neutral earlier should federal and state policies align,” Ross said. The committee will present its goals to the Council on Nov. 18.
The Councilors also emphasized the importance of completing the 2020 census, a nation-wide survey that looks to count the United States population. According to Ryan, completing the census is “crucial” because it determines how much money Amherst will receive from the state.
“For students, you are only going to be here for four years, maybe, or more, and you think, ‘Why should I bother?’” Ryan said. “First of all, think of the next generation, the ones to come after you.”
Following remarks from councilors, the meeting was opened up to questions or concerns from students in the audience. Students brought up several issues, including lighting in the streets and projects in town.
One student voiced a concern about discovering issues in her apartment, such as gas leaks, after signing a lease.
“The town has taken a number of steps over the last few years to improve the response of Inspection Services,” Ryan said. “When a complaint is registered, you will hear, and it will be followed, and if ever that doesn’t happen, you should reach out to the councilors and let us know.”
The councilors also urged students to get involved within the Amherst government and to make sure their concerns are voiced and heard.
“If you show up to a town hall meeting, a public meeting, a town council meeting, it is overwhelmingly older generations, overwhelmingly white, and that doesn’t necessarily reflect the population we have here in Amherst,” Ross said. “So I think those stories that we hear from you, those are really useful because they inform the debates in ways we don’t get from the typical people who show up.”
Will Mallas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @willmallas.