The Efficiency Committee chaired by Selectmen Richard Benka recently released their recommendations for ways Brookline can save money and meet its budgetary needs. We applaud the dedication of this committee whose members’ sole motivation was to help the town meet the difficult economic challenges ahead. We, however, take umbrage with the recommendation that Marge Amster’s position of Commercial Areas Coordinator be eliminated from Brookline’s Town Budget. If this were to happen, the effects on the town economy would be devastating.
It’s easy to confuse all business activity with the likes of Wall Street CEOs dragging their sorry butts in front of Congress to defend their use of corporate jets and Mick Jagger-like salaries. These are not Brookline’s business owners, though. Local businesspeople are you and I; they are our parents, our siblings and our neighbors. They are not the corporate juggernauts whose lobbyists lead government around like puppets to get what they want. Local businesspeople navigate the treacherous waters of town committees and boards in the best way they can to make an honest living.
Brookline has long been known as a community that shows little support and understanding for the business community. Many times the town didn’t even refer to this vital group as taxpayers. That was until Marge Amster came along. Her mentoring was the driving force behind the emergence of the Coolidge Corner Merchants Association and the resurgence of the Chamber of Commerce. Two years ago the local business community was not informed that they were to be excluded from the opportunity to purchase vital parking permits. Marge provided the information we needed to include ourselves in the process. Today, Brookline collects over $106,000 annually in commercial parking permits, and the number is growing every year. This revenue stream would have been lost to the town if not for Marge.
She also a vital resource for a number of community-based efforts. Marge helped the Brookline Arts Festival join with the CCMA Food Committee to put on a great day of activities for the residents of Brookline, a side benefit of which was a $4,145 donation to the Brookline Food Pantry. She also runs Brookline First Light. It would cost the town between $30,000 and $50,000 to hire an outside coordinator to run this festival, and I can state for a fact that there is no way they could solicit the same level of financial support from local business that Marge can. She is a member of every important committee that unites the business community and residents. Her guidance helped forge a sensible solution to the trans-fat ban, ending the sale of food made with trans-fat in Brookline in a way that was sensitive to the survival of local restaurants. Almost every day, Marge serves as an unofficial mediator between business interests and the needs of residents.
The cost of doing business in Brookline is higher than many local communities. Recently, many Brookline businesses have had to leave as a result, and many are planning moves as I write this letter. These are family people who care about the community, who open their cash drawers to help local charities, even when the fears of making payroll and mortgage payments are forefront on their minds. Many of them face rent increases, even in this economy, even as their revenues are going down.
A word not often used in business is love. Marge has done so much for independent business owners that their respect has grown into a deep admiration and love for her. She has helped them make their lifelong quest for the American dream a reality. Marge built a bridge between Brookline business and Brookline residents. Eliminating Marge’s position will detonate that bridge. It will exacerbate an already tenuous situation.
In an effort to keep Marge Amster in her position, Town Administrator Richard Kelliher is expected to recommend to the Board of Selectmen that the Commercial Areas Coordinator be converted to a part time position. While in theory this may sound like a viable solution, in fact, the town will face a serious financial loss from it. Cutting Marge’s hours to part time is a costly attempt to appease certain political factions in Brookline rather than a legitimate financial solution for the town.
Commercial property owners in Brookline pay taxes based on 173% of the assessed property values. These properties represent a strong tax base and add vibrancy to the community. Marge Amster produces and protects revenue for Brookline at a time when everyone, including town government, must tighten their belts. As such, half of Marge will yield half her financial benefit to Brookline. Even worse, if Marge Amster were to decide that she could not survive working on a part time basis, the town would be unable to replace her as a result of the current hiring freeze. Taking a long term perspective, should the Commercial Areas Coordinator position be restored at a later date, it would take a new person at least a year to get up to speed.
The reality is that Marge is a financial asset to the town. She does the work of four people, and brings in several times her compensation to the town coffers. Ever work with people like Marge? You keep them; you don’t let them go.
Brookline cannot afford to loose Marge, especially in this economic climate. This is a time to come together and weather the rising economic storm as a united community. Help us. Help Brookline, and do what you can to save Marge’s job.