Jay Green listens to Town Accountant Mary Beverly go over the 1/12th budget process.
ADAMS, Mass. — After deciding last month to forgo a town meeting and adopt a 1/12th budget process for the short term, the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday approved the first month's budget for the new fiscal year.
That figure will be forwarded the state's Department of Revenue for a final review and approval.
Just like its partner in the Hoosac Valley Regional School District, Cheshire, and the school district itself, Adams will wait for definitive state aid numbers from Boston before approving a hard budget. The COVID-19 pandemic has spawned wide speculation of revenue shortfalls in the commonwealth.
As recently as late May, the watchdog group Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation predicted the state could lose up to $6 billion in tax revenue for fiscal 2021. Mass.gov lists the original benchmark for tax revenue for FY 2020 at slightly more than $30 billion. This would represent about a 20 percent drop year to year. That number is worse than the devastating financial crisis at the end of the last decade when losses hit 10-15 percent.
Whatever the final numbers end up at, Adams' leaders did not feel comfortable committing to a budget that ultimately it may not be able to afford.
As mandated by the state, the town will revert back to its 2020 operating budget and simply divide by 12 for each month. There will be no discretionary or capital spending under the process. It is an operational budget only.
"Pay our people, pay the bills," Town Administrator Jay Green simplified after the meeting Wednesday night.
The town budget for July will be $1,394,891 pending approval by the DOR.
Green has been very blunt throughout the budget process and that continued Wednesday.
"As I've been saying all along, there's not many aspects of municipal government over the last 90 days that haven't been somehow affected by the pandemic. I think it's important for everyone to know that the staff is working here at Town Hall through these issues even through shortened hours of support staff. There have been a lot of midnight lights burning in offices in order to keep the town moving," he said.
Town Accountant Mary Beverly said even though she anticipates at least a 10-15 percent drop in state aid, the town is not allowed to submit that in the 1/12th budget. She has, however, told staff to be as frugal as possible.
"It's way more than we need to appropriate. We are definitely counseling every department head that they are not to spend all this money. The Budget Subcommittee recommended we cut 10-15 percent in the 1/12th budget and that's very wise counsel. Because we're probably going to have to make a 10-15 percent cut in the budget ... when the DOR decides to cut our state aid, but we can't do that now," she explained.
The news in Adams is not all bad as Green highlighted some of the construction projects that are still moving forward despite the pandemic.
The long-anticipated reconstruction of Commercial Street is now out for bid. The approximately 1-mile stretch of road from McDonald's to the Grove Street bridge will be receiving new pavement, new sidewalks, bicycle lanes and a slight widening among other improvements. The project is projected at around $9 million and will be mostly federally funded.
The Grant Street drainage project has been awarded to JH Maxymillian Inc. of Pittsfield to the tune of $1.3 million. The funds for this project come from a grant from the state's Municipal Vulnerability Project, which focuses on improving municipalities' relationship and reaction to climate change, and also from some town funds.
The rehabilitation of the northern half of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail is scheduled to start June 29 after Maxymillian finishes the southern portion in Cheshire and Lanesborough. The Department of Transportation funded project comes with a price tag of more than $3 million.
"We're still trying to get more money, but that's basically three DOT projects going on here in Adams this summer and we thank our partners at DOT for it. I can't stress that enough, we have a lot going on," Green said.
Community Development Director Donna Cesan gave an update on the nearly completed heating and air conditioning project at the former Adams Memorial School. The town has been seeking developers for the once middle and high school and received greater than expected interest at a walkthrough in March for prospective buyers but COVID-19 put a stop to any progress. The HVAC project that started in FY 2018 continued, however. The bulk of the roughly $550,000 came from the Community Development Block Grant program.
Community Development Director Donna Cesan updates the board on HVAC at the Memorial School.
"This focused on providing an HVAC system for a portion of the school building, about 20,000 square feet. This is the area of the gymnasium, the surrounding locker rooms, all of that area and the main entrance off of Valley Street is all now, or will be very soon, served by a new HVAC system," Cesan said.
Selectman Joseph Nowak inquired about the possibility of including the auditorium, as he felt that could be of use for town meetings or elections. Cesan responded that there wasn't enough funding. She did say that the system is easily expandable should more funds become available.
Code Enforcement Officer Marc Blaisdell gave an update on reopening parks and open spaces. He is anticipating a June 26 reopening but was quick to point out that any spike in COVID-19 cases in the state could delay that. Phase II also has a provision for youth sports to start practicing with an eye toward games in Phase III. The state's reopening plan is currently in week two of Phase II.
The Department of Public Health, Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and the town of Adams have all instituted social distancing guidelines and safety standards for use of parks and open spaces that are too numerous to mention here but can be found on their respective websites.
Signs will be posted at facilities and both the Code Enforcement Officer and law enforcement officials will be monitoring the fields.
The Selectmen will be meeting next Wednesday, June 24. Visit the town website for details.
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