Selectmen Seek State Approval To Deficit Spend

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Municipal Finance , COVID-19

Harwich news.

HARWICH — Selectmen Tuesday afternoon voted to send a formal request to the division of local services in the state department of revenue to allow the town to deficit spend up to $250,000 due to the COVID-19 pandemic in FY2020.

Because of the state of emergency declared by Gov. Charlie Baker on March 10, the town anticipates extraordinary expenses, according to the letter, which will be sent to Mary Jane Handy, director of bureau of accounts.

Among the expenses are cleaning and sanitizing costs, custodial wages, costs associated with preparation and delivery of meals to the elderly, personal protective equipment, overtime for the public safety and health departments, and retrofitting town buildings to ensure the safety of employees and the public.

Finance Director Carol Coppola said there are provisions within the bureau of accounts that allow deficit spending in areas where funds were not appropriated. This will allow the town to segregate COVID-19-related expenses and make the town eligible for possible reimbursement, or allow it to raise the additional funds on the tax rate in 2021. She said if $250,000 is not enough, the amount can be increased with another letter to the agency.

Selectman Donald Howell asked if there was any assistance coming to help the town with emergency expenses. Coppola said there is the potential for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide a 75 percent reimbursement and Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency to provide 25 percent.

Selectman Michael MacAskill wanted to know if there is anything the board should be doing to help, with, for instance, the council on aging, which is working with the most vulnerable segment of the town’s population. He asked if all the positions were filled.

“We have staff doing what they need to do,” Interim Town Administrator Joseph Powers said. On April 24 the COA social worker left, he added, but there is a hiring freeze in place and the position is “non-essential to COVID-19.”

“I’m not sure a hiring freeze on a social worker at this time isn’t essential,” MacAskill responded. “Any position there shouldn’t be part of a hiring freeze.”