TOWNSEND -- Town officials are anticipating an $18.38 million budget for fiscal 2015, a 2.3 percent increase from last year.
In his annual budget presentation to selectmen Thursday, Town Administrator Andrew Sheehan said Townsend would continue its tradition in recent years of modest budget increases.
"As has been noted in prior years, town departments have largely been living with level-funded budgets for several years. This is an unsustainable practice as costs continue to rise and departments, though level-funded, fall further behind due to normal inflationary pressures. Unfortunately, with few exceptions, we have little choice but to continue on this path in fiscal '15," Sheehan said.
Sheehan also said the budget estimates were likely to change as the budget cycle progresses. Department budgets are to be submitted by Jan. 27.
The projections count on state aid remaining level-funded from last year, Sheehan said.
"State finances have stabilized over the last couple of years, so a lot of the uncertainty has gone away. The reductions we were dealing with at the end of 2008, 2009 and 2010, have gone away and things are much better," he said.
The tax levy will increase by the standard 2.5 percent, bringing it to $14.3 million.
"Like a lot of communities of our size in this area, we're getting by, but it's a frugal community, so we're trying to honor the wishes of the citizenry and be respectful of the impact that our operations have on property taxes," Sheehan said.
Expenditures could vary depending on the assessments for the North Middlesex Regional School District and Nashoba Valley Technical High School, which together make up 54 percent of the town's general-fund budget, Sheehan said. Assessments will not be confirmed until March.
Other major expenditures Sheehan mentioned were employee health insurance, which could increase by 7 percent to 10 percent, the town's curbside trash-collection program, which is expected to be level-funded at $625,000, as well as personnel costs.
Sheehan said he is not recommending any reductions in staffing for 2015, and is planning on a 2.5 percent pay increase for nonunion employees based on a plan selectmen had already approved.
"The board made a commitment to employees several years ago with the compensation plan and we're expecting to stick with that," he said.
In a memo to selectmen, he also mentioned the possibility of cost-cutting if employees leave certain positions.
"There may be opportunities to reduce costs as positions become vacant and we will continue to explore options while maintaining services," he wrote in a memo to selectmen.
Selectmen also voted 2-0 not to hold a special election to fill the vacant seat on the board left by Robert Plamondon, who resigned last month after moving to New Hampshire.
Instead, candidates will be voted on during the annual town election April 28. Nomination papers will be available Jan. 7 and must be submitted by March 10.
According to Sheehan, if the vacancy is between three and six months, the board can choose whether to hold a special election.
Selectman Colin McNabb said the cost of the election, which could amount to around $3,500, would be an unnecessary expense.
"I can't in my mind justify the cost when it's so close to the election," McNabb said.
Chairman Sue Lisio agreed that the expense couldn't be justified, but also brought up the issue of having split votes with only two members on the board.
"I don't know what happens if we both disagree if we can't talk each other into something. They could prove to be interesting meetings coming up," Lisio said.