Rochester considers coronavirus impact on long-term finanicals

May 7, 2020

ROCHESTER — Now that the town has figured out the logistics of many safety-issues of the pandemic, it is beginning to look into some of the potential financial impacts. 

Departments have began tracking coronavirus-related expenditures so Rochester can report them to the federal government.

Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar said at a May 7 Board of Selectmen meeting that she is trying to figure out how to pay for uncovered expenses.

If she is forced to make cuts to pay for unanticipated expenses not covered by federal or state aid, she said she would look first at buildings or programs that aren’t open or continuing right now, or things in the budget that the town may be able to forgo in the fall. 

Selectman Woody Hartley clarified that the Town Administrator is likely not looking at school money. “The COA is closed right now, the library is partially open,” he said, to list places where the town may find unused funds. “We don’t want people to be overly concerned at this point,” he added.  

He urged the town administrator to “don’t let the public start speculating” about budget cuts. 

But, “everything is unknown right now. We’re working with unknown revenue, the state won’t give us more information,” she said. 

She added if the town’s revenue is worse than expected, she may need a hiring freeze, to use reserve revenue, or ask departments to dip into their stabilization funds. 

Still, “fiscally we are in probably the best shape for our town to weather this storm. We have been working on the reserve, building up free cash, not using free cash,” Szyndlar said.  

New state laws allow the town to operate on one-twelfth of its 2020 fiscal year budget on a month-to-month basis. Szyndlar said that state officials suggested that the town should request use of a month-to-month budget if it cannot pass the budget before the July 1 budget deadline due to a further postponement of Town Meeting.

However Town Counsel Blair Bailey clarified that this partial budget couldn’t include any changes that would need Town Meeting approval. So it would allow for automatic step-increases, but not cost-of-living adjustments, which would need a vote. 

At the county level, Selectman Chair Paul Ciaburri said that the Plymouth County Commissioners will plan to start distributing $90 million from the CARES act in June. 

“I have great faith in them as a body. They run a tight ship,” said Ciaburri.