Amherst city council is preparing to ask for crucial income tax renewal in May 2019

By Jason Hawk -

The 1.5 percent income tax that pays for much of Amherst’s day-to-day operations is coming up for renewal.

City council is working through the procedural votes needed to place the measure on the May 2019 primary ballot.

“We really need this to pass,” said mayor Mark Costilow in a Sept. 4 meeting.

The levy was last voted through as a replacement in November 2009 by a 53-47 percent margin. It must be renewed every 10 years.

The spring renewal would not change the local income tax structure in any way but would keep it on the books through 2029.

About 55 percent of Amherst’s general fund budget comes from income tax collections. The cash pays for everything from police officers to utilities trucks to sidewalk paving.

Costilow said a renewal failure would spell disaster for Amherst and would result in sweeping layoffs of municipal workers.

Treasurer Richard Ramsey said financial experts in both his office and the auditor’s office are deeply worried about what would happen if the renewal were to fail.

The income tax represents between $1.5 million and $2 million in operating cash per year, he said.

Finance committee discussion Sept. 4 turned to how income tax revenue is allocated.

Councilman Joe Miller said he wants to see more cash used to turn Amherst into a more pedestrian-friendly community with additional walkways and bike paths. Councilman Brian Dembinski questioned whether more money should be put toward street repairs.

Those decisions are up to council, said Costilow, and are part of the budget discussion.

He cautioned against muddying the waters by tying the income tax renewal to potentially controversial issues such as sidewalk expansion.

So did finance chair Ed Cowger. “Whenever we’re looking at the sidewalks, there will be a lot of different questions that will pop up,” he said.

Miller agreed, saying that while he wants to see more connectivity throughout the city, it’s a separate issue.

“We cannot run the city with even less than we have now,” he said, stressing his support for the income tax renewal.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk