These times of unprecedented fiscal stress are hitting all communities to some extent, but those most severely struck are cities and towns that lack the resources and reserves needed to balance budgets in tough times. The City of Lawrence is one such community.

From the start, Governor Deval Patrick's approach, which received support from the Legislature, has been to give newly elected Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua and the nine-member City Council (six of whom are also new to office, having taken office for the first time in January) a chance to make the tough decisions and hard choices on behalf of the citizens of Lawrence.

On Tuesday, Governor Patrick signed legislation that allows the City to deficit borrow up to $35 million over the course of FY10 and FY11, giving newly elected local officials a little breathing room to stabilize the City's finances, to reduce spending, and to introduce the efficiencies that will be necessary to bring the City's budget into balance. Those efficiencies included in the legislation include but are not limited to the consolidation of the school department and municipal business office functions, and requiring the City to move to a more cost effective municipal health insurance plan if an analysis warrants such a move.

There is a tremendous amount of work ahead, starting with executing the hiring of an overseer, appointed by the Secretary for Administration and Finance, to advise local officials and facilitate the City's borrowing. In this bill it is crystal clear that the overseer has the authority to call for the installation of a Finance Control Board if the City cannot take the necessary steps to restore balance to Lawrence's budget.

No blank check has been issued to the City. The borrowing, which is modeled on similar deficit borrowings conducted in communities such as Southbridge and Medway in recent years, will be repaid by the taxpayers Lawrence not by the taxpayers of the Commonwealth. And if a Finance Control Board is required, one will surely be appointed. But it is our goal at the Division of Local Services to give local officials in Lawrence all the help and guidance we can so that they can make the decisions that will send the city on a new path of fiscal stability and growth.

Local control of municipal government has a long and storied history in Massachusetts - so much so that it is built into the fabric of our governance - and Governor Patrick believes a new set of local officials in Lawrence deserve a chance to turn their City around. They now have that chance.

Robert Nunes

& the City and Town Editorial Board