Northborough Town Administrator outlines possible post-COVID-19 budget

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Town meeting postponed, summer camps cancelled

By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer

Northborough – Massachusetts has over a million dollars in federal aid earmarked for Northborough. But the town cannot actually access “the lions share” of it, Town Administrator John Coderre said May 18.

Discussing that money, originally allocated by the CARES coronavirus relief federal stimulus act, Coderre told selectmen that he expects funds will eventually become accessible, but added he must budget, for now, assuming they won’t.

Graphic by Dakota Antelman

“We need to prepare for the worst-case scenario,” he said.

In total, the CARES act distributed $150 billion in state and local relief funding, with Massachusetts receiving $2.7 billion. State officials then divided that money among the commonwealth’s 351 municipalities according to population.

Though that gave Northborough a share of just over $1.3 million, the federal government currently says such funds can only be used to offset “direct COVID-19 expenditures” such as personal protection equipment purchases and testing costs.

Coderre says the town has only incurred about $100,000 in such expenses.

That, though, is as they still face up to a $1 million cut in state funding and $600,000 in lost tax revenue due to coronavirus related decreases in hotel occupancy and the temporary shuttering of the restaurant industry, among other things.

“We feel like we’re crawling through the desert and there’s an icy glass of water just out of reach for us,” Coderre said.

With that “water” or not, however, Coderre said he’s assembled a plan to allow town government to function without federal aid if need be.

If executed, that budget would minimize personnel layoffs by instead postponing non-emergency infrastructure projects like road work, cancelling orders for new police and fire department equipment, and avoiding filling now vacant Assistant DPW Director and Facilities Director positions, among other things.

Data via Town of Northborough | Graphic by Dakota Antelman

Altogether, those cuts would total just over $400,000.

Though major, Coderre said there’s a bitter silver lining in this.

“This is a disaster for most communities,” he said. “I don’t know of any other area community that could take a 17 percent reduction in state aid and still put a balanced budget on the table.”

Reiterating points he first made at a public information session two weeks earlier, Coderre noted Northborough had spent the last decade planning for a recession. Thus, he said, it entered this economic catastrophe with room to increase taxes within legal limits and with their traditional budget structure much less reliant on unreliable revenue streams like hotel and meals taxes that have dried up of late.

“We’ve planned for a recession and put policies in place over the last 10 years that have put us in a good spot,” he said. “It’s still going to be difficult, but we’re in a better spot than most.”

Beyond Coderre’s budget update, the Northborough Board of Selectmen did also take action on more short-term ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic May 18.

They postponed their previously scheduled May 27 town meeting to June 22, noting that date is effectively the last one on which the town can hold its meeting to get a full budget authorized before the start of the new fiscal year July 1.

If social distancing requirements, in fact, persist and the town needs to delay the meeting again, it would then enact “1/12th” budgets that would fund operations in 30-day increments until whenever a town meeting could safely take place.

“Those are really our only options,” Coderre said.

The town has also cancelled summer camps while also urging business owners and landlords potentially reopening facilities in the coming weeks to briefly flush their taps to clear unhealthy standing water out of their buildings before drinking.

For more, visit https://www.town.northborough.ma.us/covid-19-coronavirus-information