By Susan Gonsalves, Contributing Writer
Westborough – The budget, the Town Meeting warrant and COVID-19 response are among Westborough Town Manager Kristi Williams’ recent priorities.
She highlighted the upcoming warrant during a recent virtual public hearing.
The Advisory Finance Committee is recommending a budget of $123,954,177, a 4.93 percent increase over last year. Of that total, nearly half or $57,121,155 is proposed for the school department.
Williams said that one major impact is that the SAFER grant for the Fire Department expires in November fiscal year 2022. Westborough must take on 88 percent of the cost of eight additional firefighters instead of 48 percent.
A major concern is the impact on the tax rate. Williams explained that the town may use $770,000 of free cash to lower that impact for an average single-family home to $524. There is the possibility that number could decrease to an estimated $365 if local aid from the state comes through with a hike.
“Typically, we can forecast and estimate and we are conservative,” she said. “This year, we have to be more conservative because we really don’t know how the economy is going to respond on July 1.”
The fiscal year runs from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022.
The Town Meeting warrant contains a list of capital project requests totaling $2,865,098.
Williams said selectmen talked about postponing votes on some projects until October “so we can understand how the economy is going to respond given the current situation and vaccinations, etc.”
A postponement of Annual Town Meeting from March 13 to a later spring date is also possible. The warrant, which is in the process of being finalized, includes a number of articles likely to prompt discussion.
Williams noted that among these are articles to:
- Form a committee to discuss changing the town seal
- Change the name Board of Selectmen to Select Board
- Introduce bylaws to set guidelines for the number of chickens, ducks and other fowl residents can have and at what distance from neighbors
- Borrow $4 million for capital improvement costs and related engineering services for the Westborough Wastewater Treatment Plant
- Appropriate $25,176 for body worn cameras for the Police Department in conjunction with a grant
Expenses related to pandemic
Williams said one of her major duties is to watch and track expenses related to COVID-19 so it can be reimbursed.
The pandemic has caused a 19.5 percent reduction in local receipts in areas like motor vehicle excise, hotel/motel tax, meals tax and investment income.
“There are a lot of unknowns about how people will do business here and across the country,” Williams said. “Post COVID pandemic, will people still be leasing these large buildings out or coming into offices?”
Town Hall is open with reduced hours. Staff members are rotating working in-house and at home in order to keep the numbers down and comply with Governor Charlie Baker’s guidelines, Williams said.
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