On June 16, in a marathon meeting lasting three and a half hours, the Town Council passed the Winthrop Town Budget for Fiscal Year 2021.
Town Manager Austin Faison and Asst. Town Manager Anna Freedman originally presented the FY21 budget on April 21. On June 2, they announced they were working on making some adjustments in light of the economic fallout of COVID-19. This included reducing estimated revenues from local receipts and state aid by about $1 million.
“This has been a really dynamic process this year,” said Faison. “This is our third pass. We had to stop everything and reassess.”
“It’s been a difficult year to say the least,” echoed Freedman. “Even prior to COVID-19, we would still be having a difficult budget year.”
Highlights of this year’s budget included state aid, the addition of a town planner, and additional school funding.
State aid comes in the form of Chapter 70 funding for schools and unrestricted state aid. The actual amount of state aid for towns is not expected until later in the summer. Anticipating a reduction in state aid due to the pandemic, budget creators took money out of the stabilization fund and slashed some extraneous budget items.
Town Manager Faison originally budgeted for a town planner to begin working on July 1. Modifications then pushed the new hire out to January 1. The Finance Committee recommended the position be slated for April 1 to conserve money, but the Council ultimately voted to maintain the January 1 hire date.
The town planner position will operate under the Town Manager’s office at a salary of $95 thousand. There was an additional small amount of money in the budget to support that position.
At its meeting on May 19, the Council heard a presentation on the benefits of creating a planning department for the town.
The budget allocated $110 thousand more in funds for the schools in order to allow them to keep offering the same level of service. This was done by reducing the benefits line item, which has historically had a surplus. Council Vice President James Letterie called the additional amount “still short of what they needed and deserved.”
Councilor Letterie told the Transcript he wants the Finance Committee, which he chairs, to start having budget discussions for Fiscal Year 2022 as soon as possible. He mentioned wanting to increase the amount of money put into the stabilization fund.
“It affects our bond rating, which could cost a lot of money,” he said.
Residents can view the various iterations of the FY2021 budget online by going to town.winthrop.ma.us and clicking on “Budget.”