By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – The recent federal COVID-19 relief bill could send as much at $8.4 million in direct aid to Shrewsbury. But that still won’t erase the need for a Proposition 2 ½ override as a solution to ongoing budget woes, Town Manager Kevin Mizikar told Selectmen, March 9.
Shrewsbury has long weighed the option of an override as its municipal and school budgets have struggled particularly under the weight of the COVID-19 economic downturn.
As the national crisis continues, Shrewsbury could get between $7 and $8.4 million from the federal government’s new economic stimulus package, signed this month, according to Mizikar.
Selectmen heard that at their meeting and worried constituents could see the town being “showered” with funding and ask why it still needs an override.
Mizikar said there are uncertainties and limitations inherent in that funding. More broadly, he added, even those sums of money do not address structural deficits that got Shrewsbury to this point.
Selectmen discuss override with School Committee
That conversation came after Board of Selectmen Chair Beth Casavant reviewed the status of Shrewsbury’s proposed operational override with colleagues.
That, in turn, followed a meeting last Tuesday with the School Committee where town elected officials talked about the same measure.
“We are talking through and looking at drafts of agreements that we would make [not just] between the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee, but also with the residents of Shrewsbury,” Casavant said.
Mizikar offers historical perspective
Alongside Casavant, Mizikar gave an historical overview of budget trends as they relate to the current override question.
Fluctuations in Shrewsbury’s health insurance, unemployment, FICA and debt servicing obligations, he said, continually impact the town’s overall fiscal outlook.
This, for example, shows as local tax revenue recently fell $3 million short of projections made just a year ago, according to Mizikar
“We thought we would be in a much more favorable position with the total amount of funding we were contributing to pension and OPEB funding,” Mizikar said. “Unfortunately, we need to stay the course for three more years and fulfill our obligations with this unfunded liability.”
Mizikar floats varying override options
Problems identified, Mizikar shared four differing override amounts with the Board. These all would require voter approval to usurp a state law capping annual property tax hikes at 2.5%.
Between a $9.5 million, a $9 million, an $8.5 million, and an $8.25 million option, Mizikar said he favors the $9.5 million model for its greater longevity and growth in sustainability.
“From a pure numbers standpoint, the differences [to resident’s tax bill] aren’t that significant,” he then assured Selectmen.
Override push to take next steps, soon
Casavant announced, March 9, that the Selectmen and the School Committee will meet, again, Tuesday, March 16 at 7 pm to further discuss the budget override.
From that point, the Board will have until March 28 to decide whether to place this item on the May 4 municipal election ballot.
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