Jean Perry, Neighb News Correspondent
The anticipation of a significant drop in revenue over last year has Fairhaven tightening its belt for Fiscal Year 2022. Fairhaven Finance Director and Interim Town Administrator Wendy Graves presented the Fairhaven Finance Committee with the progress of her recommended FY22 budget on 2/11, which featured a compulsory 10% cut from each town department’s requested FY22 budget.
The departments’ original requested budgets exceeded the expected revenue by $2.3 million, with the bulk of budget increases stemming from five specific budgets — $407,000 for Police, $184,000 for Fire, $833,000 for the School Department, $303,000 in retirement, and $434,000 in group insurance — before Ms. Graves applied the 10% in cuts she asked department heads to submit.
According to Ms. Graves, the Board of Assessors estimates $133,000 in new growth revenue based on building permits issued throughout FY21. Bask, Fairhaven’s only medical cannabis dispensary, is also poised to begin recreational cannabis sales this year. The dispensary is predicting a $720,000 increase in sales from its expansion into the recreational realm, but Ms. Graves took a more conservative approach.
“We felt that that was a little bit aggressive, so we [factored in an estimate] on the lower side,” she said. “But we’ll be looking very closely at those to see if he’s going to be hitting his marks on his estimates.”
FinCom Chairperson Padraic Elliot asked Ms. Graves which revenue sources this year got hit the hardest.
“It’s almost all the revenues,” she replied. “Our room tax, our restaurant tax, even motor vehicle excise is down”
The result is an FY22 budget that will reflect an increase that is “just a little bit more than it was last year,” Ms. Graves said.
She later commented, “The worst possible thing you can do is overestimate what you’re going to get for revenue.”
The School Department lost $200,000 in Acushnet tuition income, Ms. Graves reported, based on the department’s estimate.
“I guess they’ve lost a few people because of … COVID, so I had to decrease that by $200,000,”
As for overlay surplus, she said, the Board of Assessors reported $150,000 from FY21 based on remaining abatements.
To balance the proposed FY22 budget, Ms. Graves took $285,000 from surplus revenue, despite it being “not popular, she said; however, it is two-thirds of what the Town used in surplus revenue last year.
“But I needed to use it to balance the budget,” she said. “Since we’re not out of the woods with COVID, and our revenues are still trending low compared to prior years….”
The Recreation Department went from $233,000 in revenue down to $50,000 in FY21 due to programs being suspended, including the after-school programs. Those should ramp back up as pandemic restrictions lift.
There are no surprises on the latest FY22 budget, said Ms. Graves, as department heads specified the areas they prefer the 10% cuts come from, apart from anywhere. Ms. Graves did say she felt the office supplies line item was too high.
“The budget feels like it’s tighter than last year,” said Mr. Elliot. “Last year, the basis was kind of like, ‘hold ground’ versus FY20. This seems to be, now, ‘go the other way’ [and] back ourselves up, because 10% is quite a bit.”
Ms. Graves said she cut $65,000 from the human resources director position, currently vacant and not likely to be restored as a full-time position under this particular budget.
Any requests for added staff were crossed off first, including the Conservation Department’s request for an administrative assistant and stipend ($37,896); the Police Department’s request for an additional dispatcher, part-time custodian, and social worker ($131,619); a part-time custodian for the Fire Department ($22,532); and contracted services for Marine Resources ($5,000).
Recreation Department programming was cut by $50,000, as was $100,000 from the workers’ compensation insurance line item, which resulted from a decrease in claims over the last couple of years, Ms. Graves reported. She also removed $25,000 from being deposited into the Reserve Fund and $100,000 from the Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) Fund.
Overall there was $1,352,941 in cuts from departments’ requested budgets. State aid, so far, appears stable, said Ms. Graves, estimated at $11.53 million.
“It wasn’t an easy budget, just because the revenues being so low,” said Ms. Graves.
She later commented: “People are going to be very surprised when there’s not that many capital items approved this year because they spent $1.4 million of our free cash last year [on the turf field at the high school], so, of course, it’s going to trickle down and affect this year.”
She fixed the amount of available free cash at $1.6 million with the FY22 spending already deducted. She said there is $3.1 million in the Stabilization Fund and $5.6 million in the Capital Stabilization Fund.
The Fairhaven Finance Committee will meet again on 2/18 for an in-depth review of the police and fire budgets, followed by the school budget on 2/25 and the public works department on 3/5. The tree warden, wire inspector, and Marine Resources will be invited to review their budgets for the 3/11 meeting.
“We’re definitely going to go through the biggies like we normally do,” said Mr. Elliot, adding “We’re not always ‘cut, cut, cut, cut’ — we always want to know the back and forth on that because, if we’re cutting, we want to know what we’re losing. We don’t want to lose a service along the way.”
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