Good Progress on COVID 19; Further Budget Reviews Underway
By Gregory T. Federspiel
Locally, we have done well in keeping the novel coronavirus at bay. As I write this, there have been no new confirmed cases reported in Manchester for over a week. All nine of the previous cases are no longer active. Obviously, one case is one too many, but residents deserve praise for adhering to the physical distancing advisories and recommended hygiene protocols as they appear to be working. We are fortunate that most of us can work remotely and live in homes where we can self-isolate if necessary. Our low case count is in sharp contrast to other communities where the number of new cases has grown exponentially.
We are still climbing toward the peak in the number of new infections state-wide thus our continued vigilance is needed. Additional measures include covering our faces when we do essential errands and adhering to the new routines at stores. Grocery stores are now limited to 40% of their occupancy capacity. This means there is often a line to get into a store thus plan accordingly.
Despite these challenges, and still more to come, it appears that our efforts to “flatten the curve” are working and will prevent overwhelming our hospitals with severe cases. And town staff remain healthy for the most part as well. Our one infected Firefighter/EMT should be cleared to return to work soon. Maintaining a full, healthy crew is critical to maintaining our municipal services. I am very thankful to the dedication of our staff during these challenging times and how they have adapted to the circumstances we are in while still providing municipal services.
We are all very anxious to know when we can start going back to our normal routines. The Governor’s stay at home advisory and order closing all but essential operations remain in place at least through May 4th. It is likely that at least some form of these will remain in place well into May. Massachusetts has joined six other states to coordinate the eventual re-opening of regular commerce, etc. Just how and when we ramp back up to our normal routines is yet to be decided and depends in large part on how we do in beating back the number of new infections. New testing and tracking capacity, better supplies of medical equipment and the development of treatment therapies will all play into this as well. Thus, despite the patience we have all had to have, we will need to exhibit more.
The economic fall-out of the virus will be significant. State budget writers are calling the new fiscal situation “both dire and unprecedented”. In this climate, supporting our local businesses is even more important then ever. We are building a new local business information and resource page on the Town’s web site to aid both consumers and business owners. The partnership between residents and our local businesses is critical, especially now.
Work continues to revise the proposed Town budget for the new fiscal year that begins July 1. The goal is to not increase the tax burden on residents as we enter a newly depressed economic period. However, we face the conundrum that most municipal services are inelastic – that is, the demand for our services do not vary greatly with the rise and fall of the economy. We still need the same number of DPW workers to plow the roads in the winter, medical emergencies requiring a town ambulance do not decrease in a down economy. None-the-less, we are combing through the proposed budget looking for areas to trim.
The original budget for FY21 called for a small increase in staff (but still below where we were prior to the 2008 Recession). We will likely forgo these. We are fortunate to have had our health insurance premiums hold steady for the new year thus we can trim some dollars here as well. It is also likely we will reduce capital requests. Of course, this a “kick the can down the road” action as these projects are still needed but we can delay a few items for now in order to provide some tax relief. Finally, discussions with the School District are underway to see what options might be possible with their budget.
Have your own suggestions? I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on making town operations more efficient or what services you feel can be reduced.