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Town Manager recommends conservative budgeting

September 24, 2020
MEREDITH — The town manager is urging for a conservative approach to putting together the 2021 budget considering the current uncertain times.

On Monday, Town Manager Phil Warren presented the board with a copy of the goals and philosophies going into this coming year's budget.

"As you're aware 2020 has been a challenging year," Warren said.

He said they were able to set the budget and deliver services at the same level as the 2019 index year. A number of budget items were significantly impacted by the pandemic and the ensuing economic crunch.

Programs at the community center were cancelled, which resulted in a decrease in expenditures though also a decrease in revenues. This year the town also suspended the road improvement program, delayed transfers to different expendable trust funds, and delayed some capital purchases to ensure there was enough cash on hand.

The town did incur a number of expenses due to the pandemic including additional costs in cleaning, purchasing protective equipment, overtime, and technology among others. Warren said the bulk of these costs will be offset by relief funds and the reduction in costs from other programs that were suspended. Warren said the town has applied for relief funds and already received one disbursement, though are waiting for the latest round.

"The general message here is we don't have any direction, it's an uncertain process," Warren said.

Overall, revenues are in a good place, though the town is still facing a number of unknown financial factors.

Warren said he has been through four different economic downturns, though hasn't been through anything like this and has nothing to compare this current period to. He said the biggest concern is how they will balance a conservative budget while still trying to maintain service levels.

"Conservative is the key," Warren said. "My recommendation is assemble a budget that's conservative, but attempts to maintain current service levels."

He said some services might be at a lower priority because of the pandemic, including the community center. Additionally, they might be able to allocate funds from one area not being used to another that is. Warren said an example of this is how the Parks and Recreation Department didn't offer summer camp, the town was recently asked to reinstate senior programs.

A number of positions are unfilled because of the situation. He also recommended conservative budgeting for salaries while still maintaining the retention of employees. Warren overall recommended conservative budgeting while still maintaining the good work it has already done.

"It's my belief we're going to be through the throes of this at least midway until 2021," Warren said.

Selectman Nate Torr asked how the recent revaluation could impact tax bills. Warren said though the assessments might fluctuate the amount to be raised by taxation set at town meeting will be static.

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