$15 million 2021 town budget up for a vote

Thu, 07/23/2020 - 5:30pm

“We will need patience and flexibility to get through the next 12 months,” said Town Finance Director Amy Land.

She was speaking about the fine line that the proposed 2021 municipal budget walks in what she called these uncertain times.

“The budget acknowledges some pretty significant reduction in revenue and it is constrained on the expense side to match that,” Land said.

The budget passed by the Town Council, which will go to voters at the annual Financial Town Meeting on Monday, July 27, is $15,241,210, reflecting a 1.8 percent increase ($275,207) over last year’s appropriation. The Town Council approved a series of measures that allowed last year’s budget to roll over into the current fiscal year, which began on July 1. Health guidelines did not allow the scheduled FTM to be held back in early May.

In an overview of the budget that will be available at the FTM, Land wrote: “Reestablishing a balanced budget required concessions and cuts on many expenditure fronts, including an agreement by [town employee] unions to defer planned wage increases for one year. With those deferrals, expenditure reductions, use of reserve fund balance, slightly aggressive revenue estimates and expanded use of expenditures, a balanced FY21 Budget is presented here. If the summer season is weaker than projected and there is no outside (State, Federal) assistance, additional trimming of expenditures will be necessary throughout the fall and winter to ensure that expenditures do not exceed revenues. If revenues exceed the revised expectations, a return to the Town’s previously identified commitments and priorities and replenishment of the Town’s reserves can be accelerated.”

Seasonal revenue lines have been revised downward. The budget anticipates that building permits, harbors and wharfage fees, revenue from various activities such as road races, as well as what Land said would be “significantly reduced estimates for hotel, cottage and meals taxes.

When speaking with The Block Island Times on Wednesday, July 22, Land said that meals and beverage revenues seemed to be holding their own, so far, but revenue from the hotel rooms tax was struggling.

In order to balance the budget, the town will dip into its reserve balance to the tune of $35,000.

“This approach of using reserves as a temporary stopgap measure does maintain some important spending flexibility in the event that emergency state and/or federal aid comes through and/or the season is stronger than projected,” Land wrote.

Block Island Tourism Director Jessica Willi, when asked how the summer season was going so far, said, “That’s a tough question. What I would say to that is that there are clearly a lot of bodies here and plenty of visitation. You see people. However, are those people spending money on things that bring tax money to Block Island? Just because you see a body on the street does not mean they are spending dollars.”

Willi said tax revenue figures have about a two month delay, so it will be September before the island knows how the month of July went in terms of tourism revenue.

The Financial Town Meeting will be held on Monday, July 27 at 7 p.m. at the Block Island School.