Council looks at possible use for millions in Free Cash

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Richards Memorial Library

By Max Bowen-max.bowen@northstarreporter.com

From giving back money turned over by the schools to buying the Department of Public Works a new backhoe, a number of uses for the town’s $4.6 million in Free Cash were reviewed.

At the Town Council’s meeting on Oct. 26, Town Manager Michael Borg said that the Free Cash had been certified by the state, making it available to use. Free Cash is remaining, unrestricted funds from operations of the previous year and can be used for a number of things. Normally these are one-time purchases as opposed to funding recurring needs.

Borg said little of the $4.6 million was from unspent funds, but rather, were monies returned by departments in the early days of the pandemic. This accounted for $3.2 million, with another $1 million from capital projects that were shelved due to COVID-19.

I want to thank the council and department heads for bringing in that number,” said Borg.

No final decisions were made at the meeting, but a lot of different ideas were floated by the council. Borg said that on thing he wanted to do was return the money contributed by the schools. In-person classes resumed on Sept. 17, but the schools have been hit with a number of costs to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including thousands of face masks, hand sanitizer stations, and weekly interior cleanings. Despite this, the schools returned approximately $300,000, which Borg has pledged to restore.

I told the School Committee I would ask for all the money they turned back to be returned and I will honor that,” he said.

Another priority, Borg said, is to fully fund the Richards Memorial Library’s budget, replacing what was turned back. Borg said the library’s contribution has placed it at risk of not achieving accreditation. Town Council Vice-President Justin Pare said that infrastructure investments would be a good idea. Council President Keith Lapointe added that when the recent override was proposed, the library was among the departments it would be used for.

To me, that’s non-negotiable,” said Lapointe of the library.

When the pandemic struck, the town’s budget was re-drafted with the expectation that there would be a 10-30 percent drop in Local Aid. Borg said there has been no indication from the State House as to what the final impact will be. The turnbacks were a part of this process, and Lapointe expects that budget impacts will go beyond the current fiscal year.

We don’t want to waste the blood that was spent too quickly,” Lapointe said. “This is not magic money—we knew exactly where it came from.”