Shelburne has formed a temporary financial advisory committee to consider the impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have on the town’s budget.
The selectboard has engaged in quite a bit of discussion about how the drastic slowdown in the economy will likely mean less property tax and other revenue coming into the town’s coffers this year.
The discussions of the ad hoc committee and the selectboard have been speculative but are an attempt to anticipate what measures may be needed.
Before getting into the budget uncertainty, Town Manager Lee Krohn gave a more upbeat start to the selectboard meeting on Tuesday April 14: “One great announcement I’d like to make is you’ll recall we signed on to two solar-array projects last year - one on the library has been online. As of today, the 500 kW solar array in St. Albans is online.”
The Shelburne financial advisory committee has adopted a mission statement – “To analyze the potential ramifications on town finances related to the COVID-19 pandemic and advise the selectboard on a range of options, opportunities, and constraints upon town budgets, and steps the town could consider in addressing its own needs while assisting individuals and businesses through these difficult times.”
At the financial advisory committee’s meeting on April 7, Chair Don Porter said they were looking for ways of “maintaining essential public services while preserving as much cash as we can.”
Porter told the selectboard at its meeting April 14 that the committee is considering, “What does it cost to run the town?”
Selectboard member Mary Kehoe raised an intriguing question: “Do we have the authority to reshoot the budget in this situation without community input, without hearing from various department heads. It’s nearly impossible to do it fairly and well, without going through that process.”
Krohn said he had been looking at the budget very closely and getting recommendations from the heads of the town’s departments for spending cuts that could be made.
He has also spoken with to the town attorney to clarify the process for making budget adjustments.
“The charter requires in the last three months of a fiscal year that the selectboard actually adopt a resolution to make any changes that we might wish to make,” Krohn said. “It does not require another warned public hearing or a town meeting. The selectboard clearly has both of those authorities and can make changes as necessary.”
Porter said all of the considerations about the budget are “dynamic. It is a work in progress. We really don’t know what the economic effect of the CARES Act programs are.”
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) is the $2 trillion economic relief package signed into law on March 27.
Selectboard chair Jerry Storey thanked the members of the Financial Advisory Committee and said, “I know it must be a little bit like checking out the weather every morning. You wait to see what the news has brought in terms of federal and state initiatives.”
He said the town had gotten “out early” in examining what the economic impact and programs to deal with it would be. “It’s better to be absorbing all of the recent developments than trying to catch up to them.”