The uncertainty swirling around the COVID-19 pandemic has led town officials to make significant cuts to the funding requested for capital projects in the coming fiscal year. The proposed capital budget that residents will vote on at next month’s Annual/Special Town Meeting, estimated several months ago at $3.7 million, has been reduced to $481,000.
Bourne Town Administrator Anthony E. Schiavi proposed the reduction during the Bourne Capital Outlay Committee’s remote meeting on Wednesday, May 13. Mr. Schiavi said his recommendations for cutting back on requested capital funding were made primarily because of the coronavirus crisis and its effect on the federal and state financial picture.
“I think it’s pretty much assured that we’re going to be facing significant revenue shortfalls both at the federal level, which the state budget is largely made up of federal revenue, and then obviously the state aid that we get,” he said.
Mr. Schiavi said that the Town of Bourne is in a good position financially, as a result of good planning over the years, “to weather a storm such as we are facing.” He pointed out that US Federal Reserve chairman Jerome H. Powell warned this week of a recession that could potentially last several years.
The town administrator said that town department heads were polled on a couple of questions. First, would delaying a proposed project to Town Meeting in the fall pose a problem for the department? Second, can your project wait until Town Meeting in the spring of 2021? The result was a plan to defer a vast majority of the capital projects that requested funding in the Fiscal Year 2021 town budget to a later town meeting, he said.
Projects that will be on the capital funding article next month include $200,000 for dredging and annual repairs and maintenance at town marinas; another $200,000 to replace the roof on the Buzzards Bay fire station; and $81,000 to the sewer department for safety equipment upgrades and pump and alarm panels.
Funding for the roof replacement would come out of the town’s free cash account. The sewer department funding would be paid out of sewer retained earnings, while money for the dredging and maintenance of town marinas would be paid out of the town’s waterways fund.
“This is going to allow us a few months to assess where we are with state aid because the state budget will not be done by July 1,” Mr. Schiavi said.
Some of the capital funding being put off to a future Town Meeting includes $180,000 for four new police cruisers for the Bourne Police Department; $746,750 for repairs and maintenance to the school department’s wastewater treatment plant; an Integrated Solid Waste Management request of $496,650 for a new five-cubic-yard wheel loader; and $232,000 to repair boundary fencing at the town landfill.
Mr. Schiavi suggested there should be more information about state funding over the summer, such as what the town can expect from funding sources such as the meals tax and the hotel tax. That will allow him and the capital committee to “reshuffle the deck and reconsider the economic landscape” heading into the fall Town Meeting, he said.
Committee member John Redman asked if the items that had been voted on and approved for inclusion in the capital article would be automatically placed on the warrant for the Special Town Meeting in the fall, or if those requests would have to go through the same review process all over again.
Committee chairman Mary Jane Mastrangelo said how the articles would be treated would depend on circumstances come the fall. Ms. Mastrangelo said the idea is to postpone them to the fall, but the committee will have to reevaluate each request.
“I don’t know that requests will be the same or that we’re going to want to have all of them in the fall,” she said. “I think we’re going to have to re-prioritize.”
She noted that the school department has mentioned the possibility of changing its request relative to its technology plan. As presented, the school department requested $290,000. That figure could go up depending on how much remote learning is done if students are not back in classrooms.
“Who knows what the school needs are going to be, so there may be some changes,” she said.
Mr. Schiavi also told the committee that he is giving thought to holding Special Town Meeting later into the fall than usual. Fall Town Meeting typically takes place in October. He said that he is eyeing having the meeting held in November.