Springfield To Seek Reimbursements For Emergency Spending, Belt-Tightening As Revenues Plunge | WAMC

Springfield To Seek Reimbursements For Emergency Spending, Belt-Tightening As Revenues Plunge

May 5, 2020

In the six weeks since Springfield City Hall closed to the public and a state of emergency was declared due to the coronavirus, red ink has tallied over $7 million.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, red ink is mounting for cities and towns.

In the six weeks since the state of emergency was declared in Massachusetts, the city of Springfield has seen revenue decline by $2.3 million while during the same period unbudgeted spending has totaled $4.8 million, according to a report given to the City Council Tuesday by T.J. Plante, the city’s Chief Administration and Finance Officer.

"We are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars everyday and it is getting up there," said Plante.

The emergency spending includes millions of dollars on information technology for remote learning for the city’s public schools and to facilitate remote work for city employees and to host virtual meetings. 

Hundreds of thousands of dollars has been spent on food distribution to school children and their families. 

There has been the added expense to frequently clean and sanitize city buildings and vehicles including police cruisers after each shift.  The city is also buying respirator masks for the police and fire departments.

A tent complex was put up at city expense to provide medical care for the homeless at what is expected to be a final cost approaching $1 million.

During a teleconference meeting with councilors, Plante said the city is carefully tracking its expenses and will look to be reimbursed if possible.

"If there are grants we can charge it off to we will do that, and for costs we can not charge to grants we have FEMA ( Federal Emergency Management Agency) that we are going to pursue," said Plante.

A total of $4.4 million in COVID-19-releated grants have been awarded to the city.  Much of that money will likely go into housing and small business assistance programs.

Breaking down the city’s revenue shortages, Plante pointed to a drop in motor vehicle excise tax collections of almost $600,000 from the same six-week period a year ago and said it may portend further declines in both property tax collections and the trash fee.

" That will give us a clearer revenue picture," said Plante.

The reported revenue loss does not include $2.3 million that is delinquent from the MGM casino.

To ensure the city has enough money to maintain core services, Mayor Domenic Sarno last month ordered a hiring and spending freeze for non-essential services.  There have been no layoffs or furloughs of city employees.

City Treasurer and Collector Stephen Lonergan said right now Springfield is still taking in enough cash to pay its bills even after allowing a one-month grace period on the due date for real estate taxes.

"We're going to be a little tight getting toward June," said Lonergan.  He said if state aid is paid as scheduled then "we should be ok."

Asked by councilors if there are any potential savings to be found, Plante said the city will likely not have to pay the full amount budgeted for school bus transportation, now that school buildings have been closed for the rest of the academic year.  He said the city is also paying out less than what was budgeted in overtime for both the police and fire departments.

" No officers or firefighters are taking vacations," said Plante. " Our overtime is way down in both police and fire becauase everybody is working."

With future state aid payments uncertain, Plante said he expects to prepare a 3-month austerity budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1st.