‘Drive-in’ Town Meeting on tap for South Hadley

  • South Hadley Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/15/2020 8:35:10 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — In what Town Administrator Michael Sullivan calls the “strangest” process in 20-plus years of building municipal budgets, Town Meeting members on Wednesday will participate in a “drive-in theater” style Town Meeting.

Eight articles are on the warrant, including the town’s proposed $48,142,557 budget for fiscal 2021, which begins July 1.

Like virtually all communities, South Hadley’s budget has been impacted by the economic losses and public health measures in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Public employees will not have raises in fiscal 2021; some have had their salaries lowered and workloads increased; and there are planned layoffs built into the budget, with more possibly down the line, according to Sullivan.

The town has also needed to reduce spending on public property improvements, he wrote in a fiscal 2021 budget report, “which would be unwise to continue long term.”

Sullivan has also created an approximately $460,000 budget reserve in anticipation of “a need to amend the budget in the fall,” he wrote.

In the report, Sullivan said that he “can honestly and without reservation say the Fiscal Year 2021 is the strangest process in my twenty years of developing municipal budgets.”

In creating the fiscal 2021 budget, Sullivan said “balance is hopefully achieved through the process of how much can we reasonably put towards education without adversely effecting police, public health, or public works.”

He also wrote, “I believe if South Hadley demonstrates balance and avoids panic it will survive the COVID19 pandemic and the causal effects it will have for at least the next four fiscal years.”

The town’s proposed budget includes $21,976,460 for schools; $3,480,086 toward retirement; $2,990,308 for police; $1,237,768 toward Ledges Golf Course; and $1,434,505 toward the Department of Public Works; among other allocations.

The Town Meeting will be held Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the St. Theresa of Lisieux Parish parking lot. The meeting’s layout plans for Town Meeting members to sit in their cars, spaced 10 feet apart, and tune in to 89.7 FM on their radios to hear the meeting. Town Meeting members will raise red or green signs to indicate whether they are for or against passing an article, Sullivan said in a June Select Board meeting.

The layout can accommodate up to 150 cars and includes a section for non-Town Meeting members. The Select Board has previously debated holding the meeting in the Kendall Sports & Dance Complex at Mount Holyoke College, which some town officials believed would accommodate appropriate social distancing measures for the 120 Town Meeting members, before ultimately deciding to hold the meeting outdoors.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.

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