COVID-19 poses challenges for future budgets

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North Attleborough Town Hall

By Max Bowen-max.bowen@northstarreporter.com

With the COVID-19 pandemic far from over, planning for the town’s financial future has become more challenging than usual.

During a virtual meeting of the Town Council, Town Manager Michael Borg said that the possibility of a second shutdown and potential decreases in State Aid could change predicted budget figures. For the upcoming fiscal year, he is expecting a level-funded budget—meaning, one with no increases beyond what is necessary for contractual obligations.

We want the departments to outline what they want to do in the coming year,” said Borg at the Jan. 4 meeting.

Borg said that COVID resulted in some projects in town being delayed. In the early days of the pandemic, the 192-unit apartment complex on East Street halted construction due to workers testing positive for COVID. On S. Washington Street, the Hampton Inn project was shut down several times, according to Borg.

FY22 is an incomplete picture,” said Borg. “We don’t have full impact of COVID-19. If we have another shutdown, some of these numbers could change.”

Borg is forecasting a 1.8 million increase over last year’s budget and $300,000 in new growth. At this time he isn’t able to add the revenue from three recreational marijuana stores set to open in North Attleborough, since they have no history financially.

I don’t want to overestimate and impact the budget,” he said.

The town’s hiring freeze is expected to be lifted in the next fiscal year. Departments have submitted budgets and a review will be conducted to make sure the requests are accurate and meet their needs. On Feb. 8 a budget presentation will be made, with a public hearing set for May 10. On June 14 the Town Council will vote on the budget.

Borg also gave the council a five-year forecast. He said the tax levy will be approximately $72 million by FY26. He doesn’t see an override as needed, though the town will need to alleviate any COVID impacts. Emerald Square Mall is now in receivership and will likely be sold, though its future use has not been decided on.

Property taxes have gone on a downward trend,” he said. “It’s something we’re monitoring. It needs to stabilize and be taken into account as we go forward.”

State aid in North Attleborough has also been on a downward trend, to the tune of $1 million over the last four years. It’s expected to take another hit due to the impact of COVID on state receipts. Borg said the cost of doing business with the state keeps increasing, and needs to be parallel with the money given to the town.

We’ll get though this process, we’ll get through it together,” he said. “We’ll make sure department needs are represented.”