norton high school building

The football field at Norton High School will play host to the town meeting on Saturday morning.

NORTON — There will be action on the Norton High School football field Saturday morning, but it won’t be of the helmet-and-cleats variety.

The town will be holding its annual town meeting at the sports venue so it can more easily adhere to social-distancing requirements brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. The rain date is Monday, 6 p.m., same location.

Along with social distancing, attendees will have to wear masks to the meeting, which was previously postponed.

The main issue to be addressed will be the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

“The budget, we obviously are in a tough time,” Town Manager Michael Yunits said. “State aid, that is the big question. We’re being conservative.”

The town is projecting local receipts will be down more than 20 percent and state aid will dip 10 percent.

School education aid earlier in the year was estimated to be climbing $72,000, but a 10 percent reduction means the loss of about $1.2 million. “That would just be devastating,” Yunits said.

The proposed budget requires laying off three teachers, Superintendent Joseph Baeta said.

Local officials are hoping more state aid comes down and the budget can be adjusted in the fall.

Overall, the $60.8 million town budget is pegged to increase 2.5 percent, with town government up 2.2 percent and the schools 2.5 percent.

The town has been generating over $2 million a year in free cash, a key reserve fund, and the requested budget is counting on $600,000 of that and about $440,000 from the stabilization account, another reserve fund, to help offset revenue drops.

“Although these are trying times for us, we usually don’t have state aid figures when we have town meeting and in October make adjustments,” Yunits said.

“It’s incredible how much this is affecting everybody,” select board Chairman Brad Bramwell said of the pandemic. “It was going to be a very difficult financial year anyway, now throw this on top, it’s the perfect storm.”

One key item that won’t be coming before town meeting is the multimillion-dollar athletic complex proposed at the high school.

School committee members earlier this month voted unanimously to hold off on that.

However, another $1.1 million is being requested for the new sewer line for West Main Street (Route 123), which has already seen costs jump.

There are also $416,000 in so-called capital items, building and equipment expenses, being recommended.

The planning board is supporting zoning bylaw changes for the Village Center and marijuana businesses.

Select board members Renee Deley and Jack Conway pushed for a Saturday date, saying it would be more convenient for residents and should boost turnout, which were the reasons for holding the town election last Saturday.

Stephen Peterson can be reached at 508-236-0377.

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