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Serving on the Jones Board of Trustees has been an honor and a pleasure. At the same time, I have grown deeply tired of dealing with the small group of obstructionists in town who seem to relish making civic engagement and public service as unpleasant as possible. These people are harming Amherst, and they need to be challenged.

It has also been a pleasure serving on Amherst’s Joint Capital Planning Committee as part of my Trustee responsibilities. As a JCPC member I became convinced that there are four major capital projects that Amherst must complete over the next decade if we expect to maintain high-quality services and a solid tax base going forward. Two of these four projects, the proposed library and school upgrades, are eligible for significant state funding (an estimated $12 million for the library, and $38 million for the schools). Drawing down state subsidies for these important projects will free up local capital funds for a much needed new fire station and Dept. of Public Works depot that are not eligible for state subsidies. This is just common sense.

It would be a mistake to allow our perennial obstructionists to block Amherst’s access to our own State tax dollars. This is our money, folks. Why take a pass on it? You don’t have to agree with every element of the library and school plan to recognize that a major influx of state funds will allow us to address so many needs that will otherwise remain unaffordable if we attempt to go it alone. As Voltaire said, the perfect is always the enemy of the good. The good as I see it, would be to expand library and educational services as broadly as we can in Amherst to as many people as we can.

We have done a great job in our town of promoting economic, racial and ethnic diversity. Diversity is the key reason my wife, baby girl and I chose to move here six years ago. But diversity becomes an empty ideal if it is not loved, cared for and nurtured. It makes no sense to invite people of modest income into our community and then refuse to invest in the services that will benefit them most. I will let the educators speak for themselves on this score. As for the library, I know the list by heart: better children’s space, inviting teen space where kids can socialize and study (of which we currently have none), tech space to ensure all our residents can keep pace with innovation, expanded ESL space (our programs are filled beyond capacity), expanded and modernized special collections space (our historic collections are of global interest), as well as an open floor plan that encourages a sense of community, allows kids to explore, improves air flow and promotes staff efficiency.

The same people who would like to stand in the way of fixing our library, schools and infrastructure complain about our high property taxes. If we don’t invest in Amherst, we can’t expand our tax base. As a result, we will continue to pay higher taxes for crumbling services. Self-imposed austerity will not make life better for our community. If we want to attract new families to town, we need to offer high-quality services. If we want to attract more visitors to downtown, we need to make our cultural district, including the library, more dynamic. We currently attract more than 200,000 visitors and patrons to the Jones annually. Expanded library services could bump that number much higher. All the data show that people always come to a renovated library in higher numbers, sometimes just to see what’s new, what’s going on. More people downtown is good for business. The Amherst Chamber of Commerce needs to get behind the library project as well.

Our local Tea Party needs to be held accountable. I would prefer to confront these folks as a fellow citizen rather than as a minor elected official. I will continue to attend Library design committee meetings and other public fora with greater liberty to speak my piece, and with the benefit of sound information I have gathered in the course of my public service to the town in the last four years. I hope others will stand up as well. Let’s invest in our young people, and lets support our town.

Sincerely,

Jonathan McCabe