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Current town budget on track, but concerns loom for fiscal '22

Deputy Town Manager Sandy Pooler delivered some upbeat and downbeat news at Sept. 14’s Select Board meeting:

Selectboard logo, May 20, 2019
"There are lots of unknowns at this point, so we’ll need to watch this.”

-- Sandy Pooler
“We’re in a period of uncertainty, and some revenue sources will be hurt. We should be able to get through FY21 OK if the Legislature comes through with local aid. I’m more concerned about 2022, due to economic activity slowdowns. There are lots of unknowns at this point, so we’ll need to watch this.” 

The good news is that 78 percent of Arlington’s revenue comes from property taxes. This will be a consistent revenue source in fiscal 2021 because the town will continue to see strong property-tax collections. “However, if the pandemic goes past the first of the year, I’m concerned about people’s ability to pay these taxes,” said Pooler. 

In addition, a significant amount of revenue comes from a steady source, enterprise funds. The water-and-sewer board set new rates this past spring, affecting the bills that went out in August. “This significant change in timing means that our collection rates will be more timely, increasing the bottom line, so we’re in good shape there,” said Pooler.

However, hotel, meal and motor vehicle excise taxes are all affected by the economy. “Arlington’s Long-Range Planning Committee says that revenues could be affected because these are the largest sources of local receipts,” he explained.

“The big question is what’s going to happen with local aid. The town recently got a boost because of rising enrollment, but there’s worry down the road that if the state has a significant hit to its revenue, it will affect its ability to give us aid. We’re watching that,” he said.

Select Board Chair John Hurd said, “We’re getting through the pandemic. When the pandemic started, we expected the worst.” But he indicated that enterprise funds are also suffering.

Nevertheless, this quarter’s end-of-year budget, unanimously approved for receipt by the board, shows that all major revenue categories are being collected on schedule. “The tax collection rate is 99 percent, which is a good sign we’ll continue to collect that tax money in future years,” said Pooler. 

Nothing in the general fund significantly departs from the general guidelines. Spending and revenue are generally at 100 percent of the budget, as Pooler wrote in a memo to the Select Board and Finance Committee. Read his end-of-year budget memo >>  

In fact, the town’s general fund departments underspent their budgets by approximately $1.25 million. These turn backs will become part of the free cash certified as of June 30, 2020.

As to enterprise funds, Pooler also mentioned:

  •  AYCC fund: Increased activity, with high demand for services in town, including psychological counseling.
  • COA Transportation fund: Shut down operations after March, so spent only 6 to 7 percent of the budget.
  • Skating Rink fund: Operations were shut down in March, so we had to give a number of refunds. We were able to carry over to 2021, so didn’t have to write many refund checks. We also had to lay off some part-time workers, but most of whom have other jobs."
  • Recreation fund: No activity this spring, so we had to issue to refunds. Because we had enough money in funds, it didn’t affect free cash."

New Chinese-American restaurant

Take-out dining is now quite popular, and soon another option will be available: Number 1 Taste, 165 Mass Ave (replacing Tiki-In), as unanimously approved by the board.

This East Arlington venue will serve Chinese-American fare Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; and Sunday, noon to 9:30 p.m. 

'Shop Arlington First' banners 

To spur retail and other town businesses, “Shop Arlington First” banners will be displayed in Arlington Center and the Capital Square district, from Sept. 18 through Dec. 31, as unanimously approved by the board.

The goal is to promote Arlington’s businesses, educate the public about the local economic ecosystem, and to encourage residents whenever possible to shop at Arlington businesses first before going to a business in another town, a national chain, or online retailers, as written in a memo to the town manager by Jennifer Raitt, director of planning and community development, and Ali Carter, economic development coordinator.

The red, white, blue and brown banners are sponsored by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Recovery Task Force.

For more information, click here >>  

Economic Development Recovery Task Force update

The board unanimously approved for receipt an update from Arlington’s Economic Development Recovery Task Force.

In a memo to the town manager, Raitt and Carter wrote that several projects and initiatives are currently in the works:

  • Marketing Working Group created a campaign called Shop Arlington First (see above);
  • Application Modernization Working Group is streamlining the application processing across many town boards, committees and departments;
  • Performance Working Group supports artist communication and the local theaters that showcase them; and
  • Retailers Working Group requests pro bono tech support to launch and manage e-commerce platforms and to learn new promotional techniques.

The task force also recommends extending seasonal outdoor dining and shopping opportunities, allowing outdoor heaters, and extending the temporary outdoor fitness and arts permit program on Arlington Park and Recreation properties.  

Concern about Mary Street pilot

During the meeting’s citizens' open forum, resident Donna Kelly-Williams requested that the board reconsider its approval of Mary Street as a shared street. 

“I’ve lived on Mary Street for more than 40 years. The town recently made Mary Street a safe street, but now it’s used as a cut-through to avoid the traffic on Lake Street. The pilot was for a shared street, but it’s a significant change from the way it was presented to the people who signed onto it. I’m concerned with a lack of inclusiveness and transparency, and the safety of children on the street and fear that someone will get hurt. Initially, 17 people signed approval of this pilot program; 22 now oppose it going forward. 

New appointments

The board unanimously approved the following town appointments and licenses: 

Commission for Arts and Culture
  • Sarah Morgan-Wu―Owns and operates an art-focused gallery, TheObjectOfStories, in Arlington. She has hosted art exhibitions, as well as music and theater events. “Arlington welcomes all sorts of art, and the engagement I’m looking for,” said Morgan-Wu.
  • Christine Noah―A theater-maker for more than a decade, she received formal training in performance and has split her professional career between arts administration and freelance producing, acting and directing. Noah has also worked in development, and has experience in grant writing, institutional giving, crowdfunding and corporate philanthropy. “When I moved to Arlington, I was impressed by the sense of community, and want to be part of that. This position would be a perfect fit for my passion for the arts and to be more involved in the community, making Arlington more robust and vital,” said Noah.

Both Morgan-Wu’s and Noah’s terms expire June 30, 2023.

New election worker
  • Susan Doctrow, Pct. 20
Contractor/drainlayer license 
  • Sean Tocci Excavating, Inc., Townsend, MA

Sept. 2, 2020: LOOKING AHEAD: New electricity push, virtual Town Meeting, Mirak plan 

 


This news summary, by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert, was published Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020.

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