Photo: Flush with cash, the new governor is increasing unrestricted local aid to communities
It couldn’t have come at a better time.
When newly-elected Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey filed her $55.5 billion Fiscal Year 2024 budget recommendation on March 1, it was anticipated that Bay State communities would be a beneficiary of the state’s ballooning coffer. And Belmont was not disappointed with what came down from Beacon Hill.
“Yes, it’s very good news,” said Belmont Town Administrator Patrice Garvin who presented the preliminary Chapter 70 local aid numbers for fiscal year ’24 in Healey’s proposed budget to the Select Board at its meeting on Monday, March 6.
“Looking at unrestricted general aid … the town’s receiving an additional $1.6 million over what the town received in fiscal year ’23,” said Garvin. Subtract the adjusted assessments – for instance, to the MBTA and Special Education – state aid nets out at $1.491 million for Belmont.
Garvin said her office has already commenced working with the school district, town departments and chairs of boards to “figure out how this is going to impact the amount of free cash we use in the FY ’24 budget.” That process will be discussed at the Select Board’s joint meeting with the Warrant Committee on March 20.
This new infusion of revenue from the state comes as Belmont and its schools are facing difficult fiscal choices in the coming months. In the latest version of the town’s FY 2024 operating budget presented at Budget Summit 5 in February, the school district was facing approximately $2.1 million in cuts – which would result in cutting 28 FTEs – from its proposed ’24 budget while town departments would see the fourth year of no growth in spending.
While much of the focus for the new revenue is squarely on needs in fiscal ’24, Select Board Chair Mark Paolillo noted the school district is undergoing a historic rise in Special Education related out-of-district placement expenditures, resulting in the district’s FY ’23 budget projections falling from a $140,000 surplus to a $890,000 deficit.
“The ’24 budget has to be recast” based on the exploding special education costs, said Paolillo.
Looking further afield, Galvin said the town will need to determine how the $1.5 million will impact the fiscal ’25 budget. “We’re going to have to be careful. We’re not going to project our state aid increasing in fiscal ’25 by 13 percent,” said Galvin.
But all in all, the jump in aid is being warmly greeted by Belmont officials.
“This is a good news story, so far,” said Paolillo.
“More is better than less,” said board member Adam Dash.