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Lyme allocates $80,000 to coronavirus response funds, adopts 2020-21 budget

Lyme — The Board of Finance unanimously adopted the town’s proposed 2020-21 budget Tuesday night, after announcing it also plans to allocate $80,000 to cover potential costs related to the coronavirus response, the financial effects of which are still unknown to towns across the region.

The $10.6 million 2020-21 budget, which includes general government, education, debt service and capital spending, shows a 3%, or $326,155, decrease compared to this year’s $11 million spending plan.

Finance officials said during a virtual meeting Tuesday evening they expect to set the mill rate without an increase. The board has been authorized to set the mill rate and approve the town's budget without a town vote May 12 after a virtual public hearing on the budget is held April 28. Gov. Ned Lamont is allowing municipalities to authorize their finance boards to pass budgets without a town vote this year because of the public health emergency.

Residents will be able to email questions about the budget to the finance board to be addressed as part of its public hearing presentation. The town soon will set up that email account and residents also will be able to virtually partake in the hearing.

Lyme’s 3% budget decrease is largely due to a $161,755 drop in debt payments owed next year, as well as a decrease in what the town is expected to contribute toward the proposed $35 million Region 18 2020-21 education budget. Both Lyme and Old Lyme pay separate shares into the school budget based on how many students live in each town. This year, Lyme paid 19.3% of the $35 million school budget, but next year will pay 18.8% of it — about $136,600 less.

With those factors combined, the town’s overall operating expenses will decrease by about $150,000, or 1.5%, while tax revenue is expected to increase by 1.4%, or $138,741, after Eversource’s property value rose about $6 million this past year due to the utility's investments in its infrastructure throughout town, First Selectman Steve Mattson said last month.

The town will allocate $275,000 toward two bridge repair projects at Birch Mill Road and Macintosh Road that will take place in coming years. The Birch Mill Road Bridge has been closed since last year because of its poor condition, and the Macintosh Road Bridge recently was downgraded, prohibiting large vehicles, such as firetrucks and school buses, from crossing.

Mattson said the estimated $4 million project to repair both bridges will be paid for upfront by the town over the next few years, but much of those costs will be reimbursed through state and federal grant programs.

Finance officials decided Tuesday to set aside a total of $80,000 in coronavirus expense accounts: $30,000 into a contingency account, finance board Chairman Dan Hagan said by phone Wednesday, and $50,000 into a new capital expense account.

“We really have no idea where this is going to go and what the impact (of the virus) may be,” Hagan said. “But we didn’t want to do nothing. So, we gave it our best guess and we hope we don’t have to spend any, but if we do, we have it there in the budget.”

Mattson said during Tuesday’s meeting that because the Federal Emergency Management Agency has declared Connecticut a disaster area due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the town may be eligible to receive a 75% reimbursement from the agency for any coronavirus-related spending. Mattson described that process as “very laborious” but said Hagan has been preparing to handle it.

Mattson said the money put aside in the coronavirus relief fund may be used to cover expenses such as for personal protective equipment, of which the town’s emergency personnel already had to buy more recently, as well as hotel accommodations, should one of the town’s first responders be exposed to COVID-19 while on the job and need to be quarantined from their family. Mattson said the town has set up an agreement with a shoreline hotel to accommodate emergency personnel, should the need for housing arise.

Finance Board members also discussed plans to adopt a deferment program allowing residents impacted by the pandemic a 90-day grace period to pay property taxes, which are typically due July 1. Members questioned whether such deferments may present a “cash flow problem,” but Hagan said Wednesday he was not overly concerned because the town has at least two months of operating money on hand and he still expected many of Lyme’s residents to pay the taxes on time.

“I think it’s pretty amazing we are able to continue adding to our savings accounts, address all the needs of the town and even plan for some contingency dollars with the current situation we find ourselves in and still have a zero-percent increase in the budget,” Hagan said at Tuesday’s meeting. “So, I am very glad with the situation we are in.”

The town has achieved zero-percent mill rate increases in three of the last four fiscal years, Hagan said.

m.biekert@theday.com

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