Rochester adjusts budget for a pandemic

May 19, 2020

ROCHESTER — State budget cuts will likely hit hard in the next few years, but Rochester is in a good place to weather them, the Town Administrator and Finance Committee say. 

The two met on May 18 to discuss a revised town budget in light of the coronavirus pandemic, since the last time they had voted on it was before the pandemic. 

Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar said the town can pass an initial budget and adjust some of the funds at Town Meeting in the fall, if they are able to have one. 

“There’s really no clear-cut guidance [from the state]. We can only go by being prudent and coming off of some of the revenue estimates,” she said. She also looked at the 2008 Great Recession and what happened to cities and towns.

However, “my gut instinct is we’re going to be okay” budget-wise, Szyndlar said.  

The state promised its municipalities a certain amount of aid for the year and though will start to feel the impacts of the pandemic on its March and April budget it will honor what it committed for aid this year.  

“Next year they will have to bring out the knives,” committee member Kristian Stoltenburg joked, but added that the town hasn’t had a deficit in years. He said the next few years are “going to be a challenge,” but said that the town is in a good place to meet it.

Fortunately, the town budget is conservative, and for commercial revenue depends mostly on the SEMASS payment, which has been mostly unchanged despite the pandemic. 

Szyndlar figures the state aid will likely drop from 28% to 25%, and the Chapter 70 funding for the school will drop 2%, or about $40,000. 

The town’s biggest saving is a $52,270 cut to the Rochester Memorial School budget. Of that, about $37,000 is taking funds that were saved on this year’s supplies and using it to buy supplies for next year. 

Rochester had hoped to hire two Town Clerk assistants to keep the office open in the afternoon, but someone from the Selectmen’s office can take that role to save $15,000.

The town will forgo flooring and asphalt patching for the Highway department, saving $40,500, take $8,251 off various line items for the Fire Department, postpone an increase to the snow removal fund to save $4,000 and adjust unrelated expenses in the sick leave fund to save $9,000

The town will also lay off a few employees for the first few months of the Fiscal Year, since their duties will be postponed. The town can save almost $3,000 by cutting a Zoning Board of Appeals Administrator, since the board has not held a hearing since March and is not actively holding meetings unless there is an emergency

It will save $4,868 by furloughing program instructors at the COA, and $900 by furloughing a Library Page, since programs are cancelled.