Override Postponed To April After State Surprise Town With $3.3M And Lots Of Uncertainties

Photo: November override rescinded

In a dramatic 180 degrees turn, the Belmont Select Board voted Tuesday morning, Aug. 4 to rescind the Nov. 3 Proposition 2 1/2 override vote it approved last week in response to a surprise announcement last week from the state that it will likely provide level-funded local aid in the current 2021 fiscal year.

Since Belmont balanced the fiscal ’21 budget assuming a 25 percent cut in Chapter 70 aid, the news from the Division of Local Services within the Department of Revenue will add approximately $3.3 million to the town’s coffers.

While calling the state’s action “really good news,” Board Vice Chair Tom Caputo said the substantially more state funding coming to the town has also introduces a “fair bit of uncertainty” to the financial forecasting and some challenges to budgetary assumptions.

Needing time to recalculate forecasts performed by the Financial Task Force 2 and allow the economic landscape to settle, the Select Board members said an override vote will now take place at the annual Town Election in April 2021.

The state announcement came days after the Select Board approved last Monday, July 27 a $12.5 million override to resolve an ongoing structural deficit and town revenue lost to the COVID-19 pandemic in the fiscal ’22 budget and beyond.

One of the first decisions to be resolved, according to the Task Force’s Mark Paolillo, is whether to take the $3.3 million and spend it in the fiscal ’21 budget that took substantial cuts or “bank” it, placing it in the town’s stabilization fund and spread it out over time.

“That’s going to be a question we’re not going to answer right now but that’s a big question because that will have an impact on the override figure,” said Select Board Member Adam Dash.

In addition to the Task Force creating multiple new forecast scenarios, there is a growing level of uncertainity on the assumptions coming from the state.

“We do have a bit of a disconnect that we need to resolve between the modeling that we’ve done and [data] we’re getting from the state,” said Caputo. “The challenge … is trying to figure out to what degree we can rely upon this information.” He pointed to the state’s assurance of providing level-funded Chapter 70 aid that has yet to be voted on by the legislature or signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker.

From now until April, there is the likelihood the town could be eligible to receive federal funds to help fund COVID-19 expenses or other state revenue that could reduce the override amount even further. With state and federal aid in flux, Dash cautioned the town “to be very careful about keeping an eye on how this plays out.”

In addition to the increased uncertainties, the board faced a hard deadline of Tuesday to either keep the override on the Nov. 3 ballot or rescind it, according to Town Clerk Ellen Cushman, who under law needed to submit

“We are backed into a corner,” said Caputo. “Unfortunately, we have very little time to fully process all the information that the state provided regarding that state aid.”

With so much ambiguity thrown on its plate, the Task Force reversed the last week’s recommendation and unanimously voted to request the Select Board to change the date for the override in the spring. The Board voted 2-0 – Caputo and Dash voting yes, Chair Roy Epstein was unable to attend the meeting – to scrap the November override.

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Comments

  1. Jack says

    “One of the first decisions to be resolved, according to the Task Force’s Mark Paolillo, is whether to take the $3.3 million and spend it in the fiscal ’21 budget that took substantial cuts or “bank” it, placing it in the town’s stabilization fund and spread it out over time”.

    This should not be a question. The reason we keep having budget problems is because we spend too much in the short term. We need to shift to a long term, responsible strategy that is sustainable. Bank the $3.3mm.

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