Westporters who tuned in from home last night to watch the Board of Finance discuss the new Compo and Longshore beach concessionaire got a surprise.
As the meeting began, chair Brian Stern announced that the agenda item has been moved to April 15. The COVID-19 crisis necessitates the rewriting of the first year of the contract, so more time is needed before a board vote.
Stern moved quickly to an overview of the virus’ effect on town finances, and the budget process that lies ahead.
Acknowledging the difficulties faced by residents, businesses and non-profits, he admitted, “No one knows how long or deep this will be.”
Westport’s pension fund has already plunged from $350 million to $300 million. However, he assured his fellow members, “benefits are secure.”
As the country heads into a recession, Stern said, the town will be hit with non-recoverable costs. The Parks & Recreation Department, for example, could lost $ 1 million to $2 million, from its $5.2 million budget.
Effects on the state of Connecticut, meanwhile, will be “huge.” Deferred income tax and plunging sales tax revenue will be “devastating. And these big numbers will trickle down to our little town.”
There are some mitigating factors. For example, Westport will save money by paying fewer Parks & Rec summer workers, and see lower utility costs in schools.
But those savings come with costs: “There will be fewer Westporters at the beach, and our kids are not going to school.”
Stern counseled his Board of Finance colleagues: “Be prudent.”
He promised,”We will protect town services, pensions and benefits. Our reserves are robust, and our tax base is strong. But we must be proactive, and frugal.”