Somersworth officials nervous as pandemic continues to take economic toll

October 04, 2020

Leaders in the city of Somersworth are worried they will have to cut essential services for residents due to the economic fallout associated with COVID-19.

Somersworth, which borders Maine, is the smallest of Strafford County's tri-cities. With a population of just under 12,000 people, they do not have the same tax base as neighboring Dover and Rochester, but residents face many of the same social issues.

"We have a lot of families that are food insecure," Superintendent Robert Gadomski said during a meeting on Friday morning with U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH.

Students in Somersworth will be receiving a third meal through the school system to help offset that issue.

Gadomski said access to technology and the internet is also a challenge even though the district has given out more than 100 laptops and Chromebooks.

Of the $550,000 the schools received in CARES Act relief, Gadomski has had to spend more than half of that on technical support, and still, some children are reportedly using phones for remote learning because their families don't have access to the internet.

Democratic State Sen. David Watters represents Barrington, Dover, Rollinsford and Somersworth.

Watters said a lot of families in his district were living on the edge prior to the pandemic and a number of students in the communities he represents are homeless.

Somersworth City Manager Robert Belmore told Shaheen that they have been putting people who do not have a place to stay in hotels.

Belmore said that at this time, he has not had to cut any services or staff positions, but he worries as they prepare to collect property tax bills in December that some residents who have been hard hit by the economic effects of COVID-19 won’t be able to pay and that will lead to a ripple effect throughout his city.

"The perfect storm is just surfacing," Belmore said after the meeting.

Becky Benvenuti, government financial adviser for the New Hampshire Municipal Association, said what she heard community leaders express in Somersworth "underscores what many communities are starting to say."

"The anxiety is in not knowing how to plan," Benvenuti said.

With the state in a $500 million shortfall, Somersworth City Councilor David Witham said more relief is needed from the federal government.

"It seems like a no brainer to me. I don’t know how it got so political. It’s head scratching, actually," Witham said of passing a second relief plan in Washington, D.C.

On Thursday night, Shaheen called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, to move swiftly on COVID-19 relief legislation passed by the U.S. House.

The $2.2 trillion package includes $500 billion for state and local governments, a renewal of $600 weekly payouts for unemployed people, another round of $1,200 checks, $75 billion for COVID-19 testing and help for schools.

By:  Kimberley Haas
Source: Union Leader