Tri-Board talks finances

Oct 23, 2020 by

Published October 23, 2020

By MARK SARDELLA

WAKEFIELD — The Big Three town boards met this week for their annual “Tri-Board” summit meeting, only this time the meeting was held virtually, via Zoom. The Town Council, the School Committee and the Finance Committee met Wednesday night to discuss the town’s finances and the impact of COVID-19 on the budget.

Many of the financial numbers discussed have been presented previously in other venues and reported in the Daily Item.

The evening began with a review of the town’s budget process and timeline as each department’s budget is scrutinized by the Finance Committee and Town Council. 

Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio discussed the town’s response to the FY 2021 budget shortfall precipitated by losses of revenue due to COVID-19. He talked about the anticipated drop in state aid as well as losses in local receipts from the meals tax and hotel tax.

Prior to COVID, Maio said, the town’s anticipated revenues for FY 2021 were $98.5 million. After COVID struck, that number was revised down to $96.2 million, a shortfall of $2.3 million.

Maio talked about the adjustments that were made as a result of lost revenue, including $700,000 in budget cuts and reducing capital spending by $1 million. He noted that Free Cash would be used to make up the remainder of the deficit.

Maio discussed the types of federal aid, such as the CARES Act, that have been received by the town to cover COVID-related expenses, but noted that as of now, those funds cannot be used to replace lost revenues.

School Committee Chairman Aimee Purcell talked about the more than $1 million that the schools have expended to date on COVID-related costs before turning things over to School Superintendent Doug Lyons for the budget details. He said that of the $1,484,750 in COVID expenses, $1,063,736 had been recouped through various forms of COVID aid, leaving a shortfall of $421,024. He anticipated that a large portion of those remaining costs would also be covered by the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

Maio and Lyons noted that they are applying for any re-imbursements that are available through the CARES Act or FEMA.

Finance Committee member Evan Kenney pressed Lyons on any school positions cut or revenues that would not be spent due to COVID. Lyons said that he did not have those exact figures but would provide them. School Business Administrator Christine Bufagna talked about the number of teachers who had taken leaves of absence and school staff that had been furloughed.

Maio and Finance Committee member Dan Sherman talked about scenarios for a projected economic rebound and the impact on the town budget and reserves in future years.

Lyons discussed the status of the high school with respect to a potential rebuild or new construction through the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s funding assistance program. He said that the process remains on track and the town has met all of its benchmarks to date. He said that the MSBA has offered assurances that the process will move forward as scheduled and commitments to school districts will be honored.

Town Councilor Julie Smith-Galvin talked about the Green Communities program and the requirements and potential benefits to the town. 

Maio offered a preview of the Regular Town Meeting, which will be held in the high school gym on Saturday, Nov. 7.

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