Nashoba Valley municipal managers bullish on local budgets

No staff layoffs or major losses, but 2021 fiscal year unsure

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PEPPERELL – Money is one of many things impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and while federal funding has been called-in to support struggling families, town money has also been dished out to address local COVID-19 issues.

Multiple towns in Nashoba Valley have had to spend town money to address issues stemming from the pandemic and the stay-at-home orders.

However, town officials claim the budgets haven’t taken big losses from the virus and fortunately haven’t lead to any staff layoffs or furloughed.

Andrew MacLean, Pepperell’s town administrator, said Tuesday that the town’s fiscal year 2020 budget has suffered a “marginal impact” from the virus.

Town money has been spent on cleaning supplies and to cover town staff needing additional time off due to the virus. As for a possible reimbursement of funds lost due to the virus, MacLean added that the town could be eligible to about $1 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, though it would be shared with local schools to cover their losses.

Pepperell’s annual town meeting is still scheduled for June 22 and one of the things needing approval at said meeting is its approximate $30 million town budget for Fiscal Year 2021.

“We intend to move to the town meeting with that budget in place,” he added. “With that budget, we’re anticipating a cut in state aid next year. If state does say, ‘We’re cutting,’ we’ll figure it out.”

As of May 13, the state Department of Public Health reported 39 cases of coronavirus in Pepperell.

Meanwhile in Ayer, Town Manager Robert Pontbriand said that the town has spent about $18,000 in COVID-related expenses over the last two months. He added that, if the virus and its implications stay prevalent, that number could increase to about $35,000 by June 30. The town has tried to mitigate any substantial spending in the time of the virus, issuing a spending policy on April 24 saying that any department expenditure over $1,000 must have prior approval.

“It’s hard to predict any impact to the Fiscal Year 2021 budget because it’s too early,” Pontbriand said. “We’re anticipating there will be an impact, but it’s a quest of what it will be. By August, we’ll have an idea.”

Ayer reported 49 cases of coronavirus of May 13.

On Wednesday, Shirley Town Administrator Michael McGovern said the town had also been monitoring its funding during the pandemic with the biggest expenditure being on hiring per-diem staff for the Shirley Fire Department. He estimated that the town had spent around $25,000 to address the coronavirus so far. With the annual town meeting looming and the 2021 budget on the horizon, McGovern said the town could propose transferring money from the town’s free cash fund to its stabilization fund in case of future budgetary shifts. Still, the future is uncertain.

“We’re not going to truly understand the financial impacts of the virus until six months down the road,” McGovern said. “I believe we’ll be okay by the end of the fiscal year.”

The town has 144 cases of the virus reported by the state health department as of May 13.

Townsend Town Administrator James Kreidler said the town has spent money on additional staffing, personal protective equipment, setting up remote working situations for staffers and additional cleaning of town hall. The town instituted a spending freeze, with a limit of no expenditures over $500 without prior authorization. Kreidler also acknowledged uncertainty with the 2021 Fiscal Year budget.

“There’s so much up in the air related to state aid,” he added. “The state hasn’t given us an update on what’s going on for 2021 state aid.”

As of May 13, 26 cases of the virus have been reported by the state health department.

In an email to The Voice on Wednesday morning, Groton Town Manager Mark Haddad said the town has instituted a spending freeze to “help soften” the anticipated revenue loss in the current fiscal year. Haddad added that the town has reduced its estimates and proposed budget for the 2021 Fiscal Year.

“We will look to further reduce the budget in the fall after we see are first quarter revenues,” he said.

Groton has 35 cases of coronavirus reported to the state health department as of May 13.