Amid borrowing uncertainty, Deerfield departments to scope out potential cuts

The Deerfield Select Board discussed possible departmental budget cuts on Wednesday in the event the town is unable to pass borrowing authority at a second special election in January.

The Deerfield Select Board discussed possible departmental budget cuts on Wednesday in the event the town is unable to pass borrowing authority at a second special election in January. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 01-05-2024 9:11 PM

DEERFIELD — With the town gearing up for a second special election to decide on borrowing authority for road repairs, the Select Board is preparing town departments for a scenario where they cannot borrow money.

The town has already spent up to $3 million to repair and open roads that were damaged or destroyed during rainstorms in July. In response, the Select Board proposed borrowing up to $5 million to pay those bills and prepare for work on other roads in town, including River Road.

That proposal passed overwhelmingly at an October special Town Meeting in a public vote, but failed at the ballot box by four votes. While state aid may be on the way, the Select Board has issued a memo to town departments asking them to review their budgets and see what could be cut in the event of a worst-case scenario where money cannot be borrowed and state aid is insufficient.

The board, will have a second chance to pass the borrowing authorization at another special election on Tuesday, Jan. 16. A community information session is expected to be held in the week before the vote.

“What we need to do is come up with $3 million somewhere to cover the costs. … What isn’t mandated should be thrown in the pot,” said Select Board Chair Carolyn Shores Ness, emphasizing that departments shouldn’t be planning on cuts, just identifying what could be done if needed.

Departments are expected to envision what a 20% cut would look like and report back to the Select Board in early January.

“We are in a cash-flow problem and potentially a budget hole, so plan accordingly,” board member Tim Hilchey said, summing up what the board is asking departments to do.

Hilchey likened the borrowing authority to an “insurance policy” in the event that Deerfield doesn’t receive enough state money to pay the bills.

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State aid is on the way, although the exact amounts going to individual municipalities is unknown. Legislators this month passed a $3.1 billion supplemental budget that includes $15 million for municipal disaster relief, although the state is still determining the specifics.

Select Board member Trevor McDaniel said having borrowing authority is not the same as actually borrowing the money.

“We’re not looking to borrow $5 million, it’s an authorization,” he said. “We need that flexibility. It’s not like a private entity where you can just make a decision.”

As the Select Board continues to examine the lead-up to the election earlier this month, all three members said the blame falls on themselves for failing to describe to voters how important the vote was. Roughly 9.8% of the town’s 3,957 registered voters participated on Dec. 5.