By Max Bowenfirstname.lastname@example.org
In the preliminary round of Fiscal Year 2022 budget discussions, Town Manager Michael Borg said further work will be needed to ensure it matches the expected revenues.
At the Feb. 8 Town Council meeting, Borg listed a number of budget drivers, including the COVID-19 pandemic and a plan by the schools do make full-day kindergarten free. The latter will eliminate approximately $425,000 in revenue that the town normally sees. He added that health insurance cost increases are possible and reimbursement from FEMA for COVID expenses will only match 75 percent, leaving the town to cover the rest.
The fate of the Emerald Square Mall—now in receivership—will be another driver to future budgets. Borg said that Economic Development Director Lyle Pirnie is in contact with mall owners each day to talk about this.
“There will be a sell of the mall in the future and there will be pressure,” he said. “Whatever the mall will become in the future, it will take time and won’t happen overnight. We need to have a voice.”
The preliminary FY22 budget of $99.5 million is in excess of the revenues expected, which come to $98.3 million. There are a number of increases and decreases among the various departments, but perhaps the largest comes from the schools, which is requesting a $3.6 million increase over last year’s budget. Among the factors causing this is the aforementioned free full-day kindergarten. This was done in FY21 to help parents impacted by the pandemic, and school officials wish to keep it going. The district is also requesting funds for four technology specialists to aid teachers struggling with recent tech-related changes to the curriculum.
“This is something we’re trying to support and figure out where the money is,” said Borg. “This is a sizable increase. We’re working with the schools to come to a solution one way or another.”
The line item for money spent for North Attleborough students who go to Bristol County Agricultural School has increased by 340 percent, from $20,000 to over $90,000. Borg explained that the school recently made some building upgrades, and all towns that send students there are taking on a portion of the cost.
“We can expect that for the next 20 years,” he said.
Another notable change in the budget is for places such as the WWII Memorial Pool and the animal shelter. Both are partially funded by donors. However, with the pandemic impacting everyone, Borg said that this support may not be available, and he wants to ensure these services will continue. For example, the pool’s line item was increased by $40,000, the amount that comes in from sources other than the town.
“We should be prepared to operate that entity regardless of the cost,” said Borg.
Town Council President Keith Lapointe liked this part of the budget, saying it showed transparency in the finances.
“This addresses the question of hidden revenue sources,” he said.
The Town Manager said further discussions will be held with department heads to see what changes can be made to the budget so that it meets with expected revenues. An updated budget will go before the council in April.
“We are unbalanced right now,” said Borg. “We will have a balance in April.”