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Like towns throughout Connecticut and beyond, Canton has felt the brute force of COVID-19. We have had cases, deaths, unemployment and worried businesses. Canton is also home to thriving businesses, and development throughout our town has continued. Here is a snapshot of our situation:
• The Connecticut Department of Labor reports that nearly 15% of Canton’s work force has filed for unemployment benefits since January. Canton saw a huge spike in unemployment claims in mid-March, followed by a slow decline in new claims through April and into May. Food, medical and retail service workers have been most impacted by the shutdown.
• Many of our unemployed workers received their first benefit check, then waited for a month or more to receive their second. We have heard that this issue has been resolved and benefits are finally flowing.
• The Town expects a new wave of unemployed “gig” workers to push our unemployment numbers higher. We do not know how many.
• As food and retail businesses begin to reopen, many worry about rehiring workers and paying rent while they wait for customers to return.
• Insurance, computer and emergency related businesses continue to do well during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Land Use Office reports no decline in new building permit applications. The average home sale price has increased significantly from last year’s.
Against this uncertain and contradictory backdrop, we have a town budget that is surprisingly similar to the year before. Is this an accident or a sign of good planning?
It is often said that government should run like a business: when times are tough, many businesses pull back. However, by nearly unanimous votes, our federal government has done the opposite: pouring money into the economy to blunt the impact of COVID-19. Governor Lamont has issued executive orders that allow property owners to defer tax payments, renters to defer rent payments and businesses to defer tax filings and payments.
The Town of Canton has worked with state and federal authorities to ensure that residents receive the intended benefits. Our first responders have transported suspected COVID-19 cases, using considerable personal protective equipment each time. The Senior and Social Services Department have supported a burgeoning number of vulnerable citizens with access to food, finance and counseling resources. The Board of Selectmen has enacted the deferment of property tax payments.
All of these benefits cost the Town. Many of these costs will be reimbursed – when and at what rate we do not know. While we wait for deferred taxes and COVID-19 expense reimbursements, the Town will continue to pay its bills. Basically, the Town is the last stop for government services. The buck really does stop here.
A good budget ensures that fire and police respond to emergencies, that students have appropriate opportunities to learn, that roads are repaired, drains cleared and so many other services. A good budget also ensures that residents can afford to live in the Town year after year – before, during and after emergencies like COVID-19.
The Board of Finance has worked tirelessly to understand the Board of Education’s and Selectmen’s budgets, to probe expenses and to challenge assumptions. The Board of Finance has also solicited and responded to hundreds of public comments. Now they are attempting to balance the many factors that form this year’s budget.
As First Selectman, I applaud the work of staff, boards and townspeople that have brought our budget to this point. While many of us will praise the final Town budget, others will find fault. No surprise there! Most importantly, we all listened, challenged, and pursued the common interests of the Town of Canton. We should all be proud.