Two topics -- the Annual Town Meeting and COVID-19 -- continue to dominate much of our work. As explained by Town Moderator Alan Wilson, Select Board Chairman Eli Boling, and Town Clerk Christina St. Pierre in a separate article, our Annual Town Meeting will take place June 22 (rain date June 24) outdoors on the high school football field. This setting will enable us to spread out in order to minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19. Who knows, we might like the new venue so much that a new tradition is born!
The focus of the Annual Town Meeting will be the town and school budgets for FY21, which begins July 1. Over the past six weeks, the Selectmen, the Finance Committee, and the School Committee have been working on revised budgets as a result of the economic impacts of the pandemic. The original budgets were finalized just before the virus impacts became so devastating.
Recognizing the economic downturn we have entered, both the Finance Committee and the Selectmen embarked on a process to scale back expenditures for FY21 to allow a 0% property tax increase as well as a reduction in our local receipts (various fees collected including vehicle excise tax, beach fees, permits, etc.) A new “Plan B” budget will be presented that will reduce total expenditures for Town operations and capital needs by nearly $800,000 – approximately $200,000 from operating expenses and some $600,000 in capital expenses.
While the Town’s appropriation to the School District remains at the originally proposed amount, the District is having to reduce total expenditures. State and federal aid is anticipated to be lower. An optimistic 10% reduction in aid lowers the District’s revenue for next year by $360,000. The District’s revised proposed budget shows expenditures lowered by some $245,000 with an increased use in the District’s reserve fund and a change in Special Education expenses. Greater reductions in state and federal aid will require additional reductions in expenditures. If federal and state aid comes in higher than anticipated, however, the District will be able to return funds to the towns.
Materials for the Annual Town Meeting will be assembled, and a distribution plan finalized in the next couple of weeks. The original budget will be contained in the Finance Committee Report with revisions presented in a Plan B supplement. The Selectmen and Finance Committee recommend adoption of the Plan B budget by voters at the town meeting. The Plan B Budget will be presented as amendments to Articles 4 and 5.
The re-opening of the economy and outdoor spaces is gradually taking place. The state’s 4-phase process began last week with Phase I in place for at least another 2 weeks. Each phase is expected to last for a minimum of 3 weeks. This week, business offices can open at 25% capacity and retailers, who up until now have not been permitted to open, can offer curbside services. During Phase 2, restaurants will be allowed to open with much reduced seating capacity. Both retailers and restaurant owners will benefit from being able to have outdoor space during this restricted period. At a future Selectmen’s meeting, temporary outdoor dining and retail displays on town sidewalks, in conjunction with temporarily removing some parking spaces, will be discussed.
The Town’s phased opening of parks and beaches, which differs from the state’s phases, will undergo continued review as well. The next phase anticipates opening our outdoor spaces 7 days a week and allowing sunbathing, swimming, and small groups at the beaches. The timing of the start of this Town Phase 3 depends on how infection rates are doing and how well people adhere to the Town’s Phase 2. Details on the first two Town Phases are on the Town’s website.