WINCHESTER - As the town closes the book on FY20, Comptroller Stacie Ward told the Select Board this week, “we closed in a much better position than (we) anticipated” in regards to how badly COVID-19 affected the town’s budget. She added how the Department of Revenue should certify the town’s Free Cash at around nine percent, which falls in line with the Select Board’s policy to have Free Cash equal between 6 - 10 percent of general revenue.
Although the coronavirus pandemic didn’t hit the town as hard as feared, it still leaves the town in a less than advantageous position going forward into FY21. For instance, Ward said the meals tax was down due to restaurant closures during the beginning of the pandemic. She also said to expect a slight dip in fees from penalties and interests as the board mostly waived those.
The town also received only one of the two PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) payments from Winchester Hospital.
On the positive side, Ward acknowledged the town’s spending freeze helped. She called it a “shared effort between departments.” She also noted the Water & Sewer Enterprise Fund and the Recreation Enterprise Fund won’t show a deficit.
“This is far better than we anticipated,” she admitted.
As for the current fiscal year, FY21, she said the town continues to “(plug) along.”
Select Board Chair Michael Bettencourt appreciated the work of department heads especially as it pertained to the hiring and spending freeze. However, the town still needs the assistance of state aid to avoid an overuse of Free Cash to fill any budgetary gaps.
Select Board member Mariano Goluboff asked Ward if she knew if the town would know how much state aid it would receive prior to fall Town Meeting in November.
“I hope so,” Ward answered, noting how the town needs some sort of indication.
All signs point to level-funded state aid, meaning the town should receive no less than it did last year. In fact, Ward suggested the town might receive “a little bit more than last year.” Town Manager Lisa Wong added the current Cherry Sheet number would be the minimum amount the town would receive.
“We’ll get that much or more,” Wong stated, though she added how after speaking to several other town managers, they told her the bottom might still drop out. (Obviously, a lot of this depends on how the state and country handle the pandemic moving forward and if there is a second wave in the fall that coincides with the seasonal flu.)
About COVID-19 reimbursement, the comptroller said that money goes into the general fund depending on when the town receives it. For this current fiscal year, she suggested the town set up a fund to collect the reimbursement money. As of now, the town hasn’t received any yet.