BERLIN – Mayor Gee Williams has dropped plans to increase Berlin’s property tax rate in light of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
Williams released a statement Monday outlining measures the town was putting in place to combat the spread of the virus as well as his plan to hold the tax rate at 80 cents per $100 of assessed value.
“I don’t want people worrying about that when there’s so much else to deal with right now,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
Williams said that while the ongoing economic uncertainty prompted his decision to abandon plans for a three-cent increase, the decision would eliminate the funding associated with the employee raises initially proposed.
“The raises are just not going to be able to happen,” he said, adding that the town was still in strong financial shape. “Our employees don’t have to worry about layoffs or reductions in salary.”
He said the town would still receive a roughly $74,000 increase in funding in the coming fiscal year as a result of the increase in assessable base. Williams will recommend the town set that aside as general fund reserve.
Though dates have not yet been set, Williams expects elected officials to resume budget meetings in the coming weeks. He said elected officials and key town staff—no more than 10 people total—would meet at town hall. The public will be able to access a live stream of the meetings via their computers or smartphones.
“Within a couple weeks we’ll have this set up,” Williams said. “The first time might be a little awkward but we’ll figure it out. We’ll take it one meeting at a time. The business of the town will continue forward.”
He’s confident that the town will still be able to get a budget approved by May 26. He’s also hopeful discussions of a short-term rental regulations can resume.
“I see no reason that should be shelved for another year,” he said. “We can’t stop making decisions and doing what’s best for the town because of this unprecedented health emergency.”
While government operations will continue, the COVID-19 situation has nevertheless prompted several changes in Berlin. On Monday, the town closed public parks after consultation with the Worcester County Health Department. Williams said he supported state efforts to limit gatherings and encourage social distancing.
“I think we’re fortunate to live in a state that’s being proactive and responsible,” he said.
The town has also canceled all public events in April. A decision regarding the town’s May events will be made in the coming weeks. Williams says he plans to provide updates to citizens each Monday for the foreseeable future.
“The situation is evolving and I want to make sure the public knows the town’s decisions and positions,” he said.