Good afternoon Fitchburg residents –
In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, two important updates to our virtual municipal government occurred this week. Ahead of schedule, our IT Department, working with our web page vendor, redesigned our web page providing a stunning, mobile-friendly website that makes it easy for municipal staff to communicate with our constituency. This redesign helps continue to provide transparency, responsive design, functionality, and user-friendly navigation.
In addition to the website, our inspectional services have upgraded to an all-in-one community development suite for permitting, licensing, inspections, and code enforcement through an on-line portal, based off of the City’s website. The OpenGov platform allows the City to manage all of our permitting and licensing operations including workflows, fees, forms, and inspections. It also allows for customer service tools, empowering applicants to conduct government business from the convenience of their home or office.
As of 1pm today, there are a total of 125 positive COVID-19 cases in Fitchburg, of which 64 are now recovered. The Commonwealth’s Mobile Testing program, a partnership between the Department of Public Health, the National Guard, and the Broad Institute has improved access to testing for nursing home, rest home, and assisted living facilities to test more people. I am pleased to report that the Mobile Testing Program has been initiated in Fitchburg to assist with our facilities. Furthermore, the Nursing Home Family Resource Line, has become available. This resource line connects family members of nursing home and rest home residents with the information and resources they need during the COVID-19 outbreak. The line is staffed from 9 AM – 5 PM, seven days a week, and will coordinate across state agencies to help callers find answers to their questions. Families and community members can call the line at (617) 660-5399.
The Fitchburg Board of Health has also begun conversations with the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission to explore the possibilities of utilizing data to help the City understand patterns, relationships, and general information of COVID-19 and its effects on our City. More information will follow as these conversations develop.
The City is well into a month of the COVID-19 state of emergency, and I would like to briefly touch upon how the City is doing financially. I have held weekly meetings with our City Auditor to review our financial status, and we can report that the City will be able to close out this fiscal year without experiencing pressure on our budget. However, we will have to carefully manage the next fiscal year, Fiscal Year 21, as we collectively return to a new normal.
Unlike earlier disasters or emergencies when the City could spend money quickly and in a finite amount of time, this emergency declaration will require spending over a long period of time. For the current fiscal year, we can expect that much of the traditional expenses the City is incurring will be reimbursed at 75% by FEMA or some other agency. Some revenues will not meet estimates because of delays in tax due dates, less economic activity, and the closing of municipal buildings to the public. However, because of the revenue cushion available in landfill tipping fees, the city should meet its revenue budget.
By the end of May, the City will have a better understanding of where departments stand financially, what accounting needs to be done, and what money orders need to be sent into council. The City is still reviewing and understanding the financial ramifications of the CARES Act, the FFCRA, and the state’s COVID-19 Act, while simultaneously maintaining city services.
With hopes that the Country, Commonwealth, and the City move forward to a new normal on July 1, the FY2021 budget will be affected, particularly in revenue. With most of the economy closed, hotel excise tax, permits, motor vehicle excise tax, and investment income revenues will be lower than average. We are also anticipating residual costs even when the emergency is declared over.
The state is reexamining its revenue projections for next year, expecting them to be less. If a new projection leads to lower state aid to Fitchburg, then the City will have to determine if that reduction is long term, and adjust accordingly. However, if the emergency is still in place next fiscal year, there will be continued added costs.
The Finance Team and City Departments have been working diligently on preparing a budget to council, and I want to thank them for their efforts, particularly given that there are several pressures on these departments during this difficult time.
In addition to the City of Fitchburg’s $100,000 Emergency Small Business Grant, The Fitchburg Redevelopment Authority (FRA) announced this week the launch of its Emergency Economic Development Resiliency Grant in support of local businesses within the City, as a result of the impact of COVID-19. This grant will consist of an award of up to $2,500 to eligible grantees having a physical space within the Fitchburg business community. Funding is limited but the FRA hopes to provide relief to approximately 40 businesses that have been significantly vulnerable during this unprecedented time.
Applications for the grants are available online through the FRA’s website www.fitchburgredevelopment.com and review will continue until the funding is no longer available. A special thank you to the FRA for their support of our local businesses and to Fitchburg!
Earlier this week, through the generous donation of Garden Remedies, the City received 30 gallons of much needed hand sanitizer, manufactured right here in Fitchburg! I’d like to thank Dr. Karen Munkacy for her support of our City, and the support Garden Remedies is providing to the state to battle the spread of COVID-19.
On Wednesday, the Commonwealth recognized, remembered, and mourned the seventh anniversary of the lives taken and the lives changed forever of the victims from the Boston Marathon bombings. As Governor Baker stated this week, there was bravery, compassion, and strength of first responders, bystanders, healthcare workers and those volunteers who rushed in to help, putting their lives on the line. It was a time where residents, neighbors, and strangers held each other up through acts of kindness.
This coming Monday is Patriot’s Day. An American civic holiday commemorating the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Menotomy – the first battles of the American Revolutionary War. It was a gleam of light shimmering from the Old North Church tower, a man, his horse, and the fate of our nation riding that April evening.
As we move forward into this weekend, let us remember that our Nation, our Commonwealth, and our City have risen to the task at hand with everyday people rushing to the front lines. These are remarkable people providing support, and a gleam of light during one of our darkest hours. By understanding all the manifestations of love and sacrifice that this pandemic has called for, we will see the essential goodness of humanity.
Please stay safe and healthy,
Mayor Stephen L. DiNatale