Stephen Braun: District 3
The new Town Council will need to work through many issues, old and new. What are the key dilemmas you believe the new Council will face?
I see 3 key challenges the new Council should tackle once they are seated: 1. Work collaboratively with the School Committee, department heads, and the Library Trustees to create a roadmap for achieving our large capital project goals. 2. Explore upgrading our current zoning code to a form-based code that gives both town planners and developers clear guidelines for new construction that are contextual, human-scaled, and sustainable. 3. Implement policies and procedures that actively reach out to community members and groups that are under-represented on the Council itself.
What relevant experiences and qualities would you bring to the Council that would help it work through these dilemmas constructively and effectively?
I've been deeply involved with town issues for the past decade, which gives me knowledge and experience will be vital as we prioritize and fund the projects we desire. I served 3 years on the Finance Committee, 3 years on the Joint Capital Planning Committee, 6 years on the Public Works Committee, and 7 years on Town Meeting.
The Town faces many challenges with inadequate and outdated public buildings and infrastructure. What are your priorities for capital improvements? If everything cannot be done at once, how would you prioritize them?
First: renovate or replace (with either 1 or 2 buildings) Fort River and Wildwood elementary schools (funded with MSBA grant and matching town borrowing enabled with a debt exclusion override).
Second: build a new DPW facility (funded by town borrowing)
Third: (after DPW has moved) build new Fire Station on former DPW site (with borrowing).
Fourth: renovate Jones Library (with scaled-down plan funded with combination of MBLC grant, town borrowing, and fund raising). I believe this can be done with coordinated effort, cost controls, and smart budgeting and borrowing.
Many of the Town’s competing needs and goals involve zoning, land use, and development. The Charter requires the Council to adopt a Master Plan to frame these issues, and to consider any proposed zoning changes in light of that plan. The Planning Board adopted a Master Plan in 2010 that can serve as a starting point. What key elements of that plan would you support as a member of the Council? What would you change or add?
I support all of the key goals listed in the Master Plan, which call for preserving our "existing community character" while simultaneously expanding our economic base by focusing development in our town centers. We also need to continue supporting construction of both market-rate and affordable housing units, push for greater contributions to our budget from the three institutions of higher learning in our town, and promote sustainable environmental practices.
Resident engagement is a key feature of the Charter. As a member of the Council, how would you engage and communicate with your constituents, including those who have not previously been active in town politics? How would you engage constituents in understanding issues before the Council and the choices and trade-offs they represent? What steps would you take to engage low-income residents, renters, residents of color, and other underrepresented voices?
The Council needs to go on the road, both as a whole and individually or in small groups. We shouldn't expect people to come to Town Hall all the time. Councilors can keep their constituents informed with blogs, emails, or social media postings (as can the town itself). The Community Engagement Officer will be focused on implementing the stated goals of outreach to underrepresented voices in our town (which means, of course, we need to fund that position!)
In 2016 and again in 2017, a majority of Amherst voters supported an override to fund the new co-located elementary school building, yet our legislature at the time, Town Meeting, did not provide the two-thirds vote needed to approve the funding, so the proposal failed. How did you vote, either as a Town Meeting member or a voter, on the proposal to fund the co-located school building? Since you are running for Town Council, not School Committee, how would you approach your role on a vote for funding if a school construction proposal is brought to the Council and supported by the School Committee, the Town Manager, and the voters?
I voted against the former proposal for a co-located elementary school with grade reconfiguration for reasons I'm happy to explain in another context. What's more important, I believe, is to work toward a new proposal that more than a thin majority of the town supports. I'm encouraged by the work of the current Fort River Building Committee to explore a range of options for addressing the problems with that building. With some creative thinking and input from people across the spectrum of opinion about the previous proposal, I think we can find a solution for both Fort River and Wildwood that is good for kids, good for teachers, and affordable. I believe the best way to fund whatever project the School Committee generates is with MSBA funding and town borrowing that is facilitated with a debt exclusion override. This would free up regular town borrowing/bonding capacity for phased implementation of our other capital needs.
What ideas do you have for maximizing the benefits and minimizing the challenges of Amherst’s being a college town?
Both the town and our colleges/universities have already made some great strides in improving our quality of life in relation to our student population. Strategies to prevent out-of-control gatherings have been successful, and rental permitting has allowed greater inspections of properties (so that students have decent places to live). But housing is still in short supply, particularly affordable housing. We can maximize the benefits of being a college town by providing students with more places to live within Amherst, which will help the Town's bottom line. But we also need to firmly address some of the current funding inequities inherent in having large portions of our town off the tax rolls. Calculations of economic benefits/contributions are complex, but I think we need to keep trying and work collaboratively with the colleges to find fair solutions.
Anything else you would like voters to know?
For more information about me and my positions, visit www.stevebraunforcouncil.org