Adams Decides Month-by-Month Budget Going Into Fiscal 2021
ADAMS, Mass. — Town Administrator Jay Green and the Board of Selectmen have decided to go the 1/12th budget route for at least the start of fiscal year 2021.
Municipalities across the commonwealth are struggling to not only finalize budgets because of an uncertain financial outlook brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also to find a way to physically hold annual town meetings to get those budgets approved. Both situations factored into the decision for the town to settle on the 1/12th option.
When a town can't finalize a budget before the state mandated June 30 deadline, they must revert back to the prior year's budget and operate on a month-to-month basis. Monthly budgets must be approved by the Selectmen and then forwarded to the state Department of Revenue for its approval. Once that is received, the town can begin to pay its expenses for that month only.
Green and the board had been wavering between trying to predict revenue shortfalls for a reduced budget, forging ahead with original revenue projections, or using the 1/12th option.
In the end they felt that even though the 1/12th is the most cumbersome option it also ran the least risk.
"We won't be able to spend capital. We will not be able to spend discretionary [money]. [The 1/12th process] is designed to cover salary and it's designed to cover operating expenses only. Each month we have to put it together. And there are Department of Revenue parameters," Green explained.
"The other factor that went into this consideration is for our school district budget. We have to wait for the town of Cheshire also to pass their school budget. Hoosac Valley [Regional School District] is also operating on a month to month (basis). They're on a month to month, Cheshire is on a month to month, we're on a month to month."
Cheshire decided this week to operate monthly for the short term for many of the same reasons as Adams: unpredictable state aid figures, lesser local revenue, difficulty with town meeting forum, etc.
Adams briefly considered finding an outdoor venue for its annual town meeting. Town Moderator Myra Wilk, who runs the meeting, was in attendance remotely and offered her opinion.
"The town meeting members would be more comfortable booking a budget with some level of certainty versus, 'well, OK we're going to vote this number now but then we're going to cut ...' I think going with a 1/12th and waiting for revised [state numbers] makes the most sense at this point. It's much better than to have to meet at Bowe Field under a tent," she told the board.
Wilk also said that some of the older town meeting members had expressed concerns to her about their safety should the meeting have been held in person.
Green said several times he hoped to have the new state numbers in hand by August but reiterated that Adams is in the same position as 350 other cities and towns across the commonwealth: We just don't know.
"It's new, we haven't done it before, but we are not the only community doing it. It's a split about 50/50 in the county. Most of our neighbors are going month to month. It's not a wrong way, it's not a right way, we're just trying to figure out what's the best way"
The highly anticipated announcement of the resumption of outdoor dining by Gov. Charlie Baker is assumed to be coming next week. Phase II of the commonwealth's reopening plan is scheduled to start June 8. This includes restaurants "reopening" in the form of outdoor cafes of a sort. Indoor dining will still be prohibited and the outdoor kind will come with social distancing guidelines attached but it is an important first step for the decimated industry.
The board is likely to have special meetings next week to make sure all proprietors have the appropriate license for outdoor dining and alcohol consumption and that those wishing to expand their exterior footprint do so safely.
"This board will have the ability to approve a process to approve an establishment that has not yet been permitted to have outdoor seating. The Town of Adams does not have a zoning bylaw that permits a restaurant to have outdoor seating. The state has said, 'We don't care. We are going to allow the chief executive in the city or town to approve a process to allow a restaurant to come in and petition and say, 'I'd like to have outdoor seating,'" Green explained.
Chairwoman Christine Hoyt said that while some establishments already have patio seating they might be looking to expand their capacity to maximize revenue and that the town will assist with that as well.
"We just want to make sure that the area which they will be using, because some of them might be expanding into other areas, it's just to make sure what that outdoor consumption and sales (area) includes. The hope is that we'll be able to contact them in the next day or two and if an amendment does need to be done that the Board of Selectmen can act on it as early as next Wednesday. We want to make sure that everyone is moving ahead."
The board raised transfer station sticker fees from $50 to $75 but with a caveat. Residents purchasing stickers for fiscal 2021 will now get five free bag tags when they pick up their new sticker. Adams sells bags for $1.20 so it will defray a bit of the increase. The town is expecting an increase in cost from Casella Waste Systems when the new Northern Berkshire Solid Waste Management District contract kicks in Nov. 1. The contract is currently being negotiated and will be voted on at a meeting of the MBSWMD next week.
Selectman James Bush was against the increase.
"I say we should leave it where it is right now for the fiscal year. When we finally know what the budget's going to be, then we can raise it in accordance. We can't just raise it up to $75 and find out that $75 isn't enough and we have to raise it another $20. We put it to the people in this town enough as it is," he said.
The increase passed by a 3-2 vote with Bush and John Duval against.
Another victim of COVID-19 will be the annual Town Wide Tag Sale. Always one of the more popular events in town, the tag sale featured dozens of households getting rid of their unused "junk" on a selected Saturday in August. The town even produces a map featuring all the participating homes. Because of virus concerns, the board voted unanimously to not allow any tag sales while social distancing guidelines are still in place.
The next regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen will be Wednesday, June 17, at 7 p.m. and will be accessible remotely. If you are a holder of a liquor or common victualer license visit the town website or call Adams Town Hall for information regarding possible meetings next week to address outdoor dining issues.
Tags: adams_budget, fiscal 2021,