Northborough officials discuss impact of COVID-19 on town

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By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer

Northborough – Town meeting is postponed. Revenue will fall. And taxes may rise as Northborough contends with the economic ripples of the coronavirus pandemic over the coming months, officials now say.

Speaking in a two hour public input session, May 7, department heads from across town government offered a new portrait of the local COVID-19 crisis, urging adherence to social distancing measures, projecting calmness and understanding, but also warning little is certain about the future. 

“This is a situation that will unfold through the rest of the year, well into the fall,” Town Administrator John Coderre said, later adding, “We don’t have all the information we need.” 

As the coronavirus has sickened 155 across Northborough, businesses remain closed. That means, by extension, that the flow of tax revenue into local coffers could, and likely will, continue to ebb. 

By the time all is said and done, Coderre said he and his staff are expecting to face more than $600,000 in lost local tax revenue in addition to an anticipated $1 million cut in state aid.

“That’s not insignificant,” he said of the state aid in particular. 

The true impacts of those hits, however, remain to be seen. 

Mainly, Coderre and others speaking alongside him said they have their eyes on federal stimulus money currently tied up in red tape that forbids it from being used to replace lost tax revenue for municipalities. 

Depending on how much of that aid Northborough gets, if it gets any, Coderre did indicate the town could raise property taxes.

1980s state legislation known as Proposition 2- ½ caps annual increases at 2.5 percent. As many towns have jumped their rates by that maximum number every year, though, Northborough, Coderre said, has not. 

That means, Northborough could now simply raise its tax rate to the legal limit, breaking with precedent, but avoiding the Proposition 2- ½ override process. 

 “We don’t want to do a tax increase any more than we need to,” Coderre said. “Clearly businesses and residents are facing a very difficult time.”

Concerns don’t end with budgets, however. Thus, the May 7 meeting strayed far beyond finance talk. 

The currently scheduled May 27 Annual Town Meeting meeting, Coderre said, will almost certainly now be pushed into June if not beyond. 

Town Fire Chief David Parenti, meanwhile dug into COVID-19 data, revealing that the vast majority of town residents currently sick already live in area nursing homes. 

He and Police Chief William Lyver, meanwhile, added that they’re seeing lower call volumes these days, despite responding to at least 33 COVID-19 related calls last month, a spike from just 12 such calls in March. 

“Those numbers are pretty good for us to have,” Parenti said of the new infection data. “We’re on top of it every day.” 

Addressing concerns about local adherence to new facial covering requirements, Lyver simply asked the public to comply with government orders. He’s even directed officers to hand out masks to those without them in lieu of issuing tickets.

“My direction to my officers is to put their focus on education and awareness,” he said. “We’re not interested in penalizing our residents.”

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to play out, officials from Lyver, to Parenti, to Coderre, say they’re fighting for local safety and security. 

As they do so, and as the pandemic enters its third month of local impacts, they’re simply urging the public to keep updated. 

For more information on the latest local responses, visit https://www.town.northborough.ma.us/covid-19-coronavirus-information