PEPPERELL -- The Finance Committee conducted a final review this week of the Town Meeting warrant articles relating to town financial matters. Of the 36 articles on the warrant, 27 are financial related. Town Meeting will be asked to vote on a wide range of expenditures, ranging from $11,705,332 for the North Middlesex Regional School District to $3,564 for the purchase of books and other supplies for the Town Library.
Article 1 appropriates $30,000 in police overtime costs resulting from off-job injuries to two officers. Article 2 appropriates $9,000 for startup costs associated with a new payroll system.
Article 3 appropriates $10,000 to cover ambulance overtime costs due to additional calls. However, Town Administrator John Moak noted that revenue increased at least $30,000 over last year. Article 4 appropriates $50,000 for veteran's benefits.
Article 5 appropriates $45,000 for costs associated with snow and ice removal. Moak noted that the appropriated amount would have been much higher except that $25,000 was being used from 2011, as well as $40,000 expected from yet to be received Federal Highway funds.
Article 6 authorizes the use of up to $180,395 of the water enterprise retained earnings to balance the fiscal 2013 Water Division budget.
Article 7 authorizes the use of $3,284.86 remaining from a 2008 annual Town Meeting appropriation for a new cemetery truck to be applied to the purchase of a new cemetery mower.
Article 9 addresses salaries of elected officials, specifically $58,181 for the town clerk and up to $77,010 for a new treasurer/tax collector.
Article 10 requires town approval for the employee compensation plan, while Article 11 specially addresses individual department budgets.
Articles 12 and 13 appropriate funding for the North Middlesex School District and the Nashoba Valley Technical High School total $11,705,332 and $1,140,639, respectively.
Moak noted that despite the $472,000 increase in school appropriations for Pepperell, the formula used by the state reduces Townsend and Ashby's allocations by $300,000, resulting in a net increase to the school of only $172,000, or just 0.4 percent.
Article 16 appropriates $36,000 for a new police cruiser. While Article 17 appropriates $4,500 for lobby repairs and renovations to the public safety complex lobby.
Article 20 provides for $18,000 in funding to purchase 10 sets of protective gear for firefighters. Article 21 appropriates $1,625 to supplement a grant received by the Fire Department for the purchase and installation of mobile data terminals to provide detailed on-site information such as hazardous waste information, building blueprints, and so on. Such information is distributed verbally over the radio today.
Article 24 appropriates $13,000 to replace an aged waste oil-fueled heating system at the highway garage. The Highway Department recycles motor oil to heat their building.
Article 25 appropriates $6,000 for compliance repairs and renovations to the Town Hall as part of a recent insurance audit. Moak noted that the funds would be used to address some mold problems, replacement of broken tiles, smoke detectors and door fixtures. Compliance with the audit ensures that the town receives the best rates.
Article 26 appropriates $10,000 to create a new town website. According to Moak, the goal is to improve the ease of use and utility of the site with new features and an improved experience for residents, including the ability to pay some fees online.
Article 28 appropriates $6,000 for upgrades to hardware and software.
Articles 30 and 31 establish revolving accounts for the Council on Aging for the meals program and transportation services.
Article 32, the one article that the Finance Committee did not recommend, appropriates $3,564 for the books and other supplies for the Library.
Article 33 appropriates $30,250 to replace the flat roof on the back of the library. According to Moak, the roof is nearly 30 years old and a source of constant leaks, requiring annual repairs of about $5,000. Should the article fail, Article 34 appropriates $5,000 for repairs next year.
Article 35 appropriate Chapter 90 funds for resurfacing roads in town. Although the town was expecting $625,000 from the state, the amount may actually be lower.
With the exception of Article 32, all of the articles discussed were endorsed for approval by the committee.
Responding to a request by the committee, Moak presented a copy of the general fund budget summary for fiscal years 2014 through 2018. The rough projections disclosed a revenue deficit of $209,561 in fiscal 2014, a smaller deficit of $176,716 in fiscal 2015, but a rapidly growing deficit in the following three years. In fiscal 2016 the deficit would grow to $390,846, $551,175 in fiscal 2017, and $771,732 in fiscal 2018.
"This is helpful at Town Meeting, and I have no problem reaching out to other department heads to see if they're willing to help get on board, to spread the word, share information between now and then, get as much information out as absolutely possible," said Chair Melissa Tzanoudakis.
"This is the situation. This is what we are faced with. This is why we need to talk about this. This is why we need to figure out what do you as a vote, as a taxpayer in the town, want to do with helping us as a Finance Committee plan the next three to four years," said member George Zacharakis.
"It's a pretty grim picture on that second page if we have to use free cash," said Moak, referring to the five-year projected free cash summary provided to the committee.
Moak estimated that the free cash balance would be down to $712,026 this year, and $435,307 in fiscal 2014 and continue spiraling downward through fiscal 2018.
"I think one of the things you need to do at Town Meeting is you need to tell people you we're going to look into this. Obviously this year we have a $200,000 deficit. We work to get that deficit down. But you have underlying factors that affected us this year. You will be hearing from the Finance Committee and Board of Selectmen over the next six months to a year what we're going to do to figure out a way to fund the municipal government," said Moak, addressing the message that the Finance Committee would need to deliver to the Town Meeting.
Town Meeting is scheduled for Monday, May 6, at 7:30 p.m. at the Nissitissit Middle School.