Council talks solutions to budget problems

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Council talks solutions to budget problems

As the town works to bridge a $237,000 funding gap, the Town Council looked at how best to improve its finances.

Earlier this month Town Manager Michael Gallagher reported that Local Aid—allocated annually by the state government—is $230,836 less than last fiscal year. Early reports from the governor’s office showed that number increasing by 66,358. As the town had been operating under this assumption when crafting the budget, it brings the total impact to almost $300,000. This has mitigated somewhat by changes to the town’s insurance plans which netted a $125,000 savings. 

One issue is that the formula used to determine Chapter 70 aid—earmarked for the schools—is in need of change. Acting Town Manager Gallagher said that in North Attleborough, Chapter 70 aid rose by less than 1 percent, while Attleboro’s has seen a 5.5 percent increase. He added that a bill to change the formula has been in committee for quite some time.

“The way the formula is currently structured, it’s not fair, not the same [across all towns],” said Gallagher at a council meeting on Aug. 12.

Councilor Adam Scanlon said the people need to keep the pressure on the state legislature to ensure change is made. Among the impacts from the budget shortfall is that several planned hires have been put on hold, including four technology coaches to assist teachers with the new Google Chromebooks issued to students. 

“The kids already have the Chromebooks,” said Town Councilor John Simmons. “It’s what this money is preventing us from doing with money we’ve already spent.”

Another matter the council looked at is improving economic development in town, including forming an economic development committee or task force. Councilor Justin Pare said that development in the town has been flat for some time.

“We as a council can have a pro-economic agenda,” he said. 

In a recent column published in the North Star Reporter, Lyle Pernie, the town’s economic development director, wrote that DPW Director Mark Hollowell submitted to the state a large Mass Works grant proposal for downtown infrastructure improvement. If it is granted, then next spring and summer a lot of physical improvements to the road—sidewalks and street lights will be made using the grant award. After this work is completed, the Downtown Revitalization Committee will begin a second phase of improvements—figuring out to change some of the storefronts, creating better signage, finding ways to improve parking, etc.