Lydia Vernon-Jones: Amherst needs to get its priorities straight

The Jones Library in Amherst.

The Jones Library in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Published: 11-29-2023 8:44 PM

Whether you have supported the Amherst Jones Library renovation (and partial demolition) project in the past, or not, it’s time to pay attention to what’s happening with the library project. If you care about the climate, taxes, affordable housing, sidewalks, the need for a new DPW facility, and/or the need for a new fire station, it’s time to pay attention to proposed imminent action on the library project.

The Amherst Town Council was asked this week to increase the town’s borrowing for the project by $9.9 milllion plus interest.

Repaying the almost $10 million of additional borrowing by the town and the interest on the loan will increase our taxes and/or reduce the amount the town has available for other projects. In 2021, the Town Council voted to cap the town’s share at $15.8 million, with the remainder to be raised by the library or obtained from other sources. Let’s remember that we are talking about the town potentially putting another $10 million of public funds into a building that doesn’t and won’t belong to the town.

Furthermore, this is not the project that we were promised when voters approved the library renovation. As a result of increased costs, the current design is no longer as climate friendly, nor as full-featured. I think it’s a mistake to put any more taxpayer money into the library project.

Libraries are appreciated by most of us. In Amherst there are six libraries that are physically accessible and open to the public. The importance of expanding the Jones Library by 15,000 square feet simply does not rise to the level of ignoring the more pressing needs of the town. Let us regroup and come up with an affordable and right-sized improvement plan for the library that keeps Amherst’s many competing budget priorities in view.

Even if you remain committed to supporting the proposed library renovation and expansion, you can still agree that more public taxpayer money is not the way to get there. Town Council should vote “no” on any additional funding or borrowing for the library beyond the $15.8 million that they’ve already approved.

Thank you for your service. I am happy to talk with you about your vote.

Lydia Vernon-Jones