This week’s news that schools will not be re-opening this spring, while not a total surprise, was none-the-less disheartening. I kept wanting to think that we would be enough in the clear to re-open schools in June. As a bell-weather of how long we will be dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, this was not what I wanted to hear. We will see what easing of other restrictions the Governor might be able to announce in the days and weeks ahead. In the meantime, we need to stay the course of primarily limiting ourselves to our homes.
More encouraging are the many stories of people helping their neighbor. Fortunately, these stories abound and speak volumes for the care and compassion humans can show. For example, it did not take long for our Council on Aging to have a group of volunteers willing to run errands for residents who need assistance. Our police officers continue to deliver essential supplies to some of our home-bound senior population every week. Local handcrafters delivered much appreciated cloth face masks to Town Hall employees.
The Manchester Affordable Housing Trust is partnering with Action Inc. to provide emergency rental assistance to those who have lost their jobs. Most impressively, a very generous anonymous donor has written a check for $100,000 to support this effort. Such generosity literally brings tears to my eyes and gives me great hope that we will get through this and be able to move forward once again.
Also encouraging are the efforts to lower next year’s Town Budget. Department leaders stepped up with a list of possible reductions to the proposed budget. Last week, the Finance Committee approved a series of recommended changes that would mean no increase in next year’s tax bills (on average; variations in revised assessments still can occur) and allow for a 6% reduction in estimated local receipts. The Selectmen reviewed these recommendations this past Tuesday and plan on finalizing the revised “Plan B” budget by the middle of May at the latest in preparation for a June 22 Annual Town Meeting.
Town operations - $152,000 less for departmental budgets that was slated to total $14.6 million;
Town Capital - $478,000 less for capital projects, dropping the proposed total to just above $3 million;
School District - $150,000 less from Manchester, meaning the District would need to spend $235,000 less compared to their proposed total spend in FY21 of some $27 million.
The School Committee is reviewing what their options might be and will determine their best course of action in the coming weeks.
To be sure, the coronavirus is having many unanticipated impacts on our lives and our normal way of conducting business. We are adapting to an evolving set of circumstances and working to put into place new plans while still providing the governmental services that we all rely on.
We are resilient and adaptable. Keep those heartwarming stories coming. They not only help the direct beneficiaries, but they give encouragement to us all.