PEPPERELL -- Departments would be further strained if voters strike down an override this spring, resulting in a 5 percent cut to the town's operational budget.
The heads of six departments met with the Finance Committee Jan. 16 to explain the impact the cuts would have on their daily operations, ranging from fewer work hours to reduced training for auxiliary police officers.
For the town's emergency management and auxiliary police departments, the cuts would mean less money available to send auxiliary officers to training, which enables them to carry firearms and address potentially dangerous situations.
"In a small town with a small police force, we can double the size of a police force in an emergency," said David Querze, captain of auxiliary police. "When there are hurricanes or snowstorms, we can call on the auxiliary forces to be out there and provide those services."
Auxiliary police also provide a proving ground for the full-time department, with 11 or 12 of the town's 15 officers coming from the auxiliary forces, including Police Chief David Scott, Querze said.
"Anytime there's an emergency, a large fire or floods, we're out there working, we're in uniform doing the things we do. If we don't do that, you're really talking about paying detail rates of full-time officers to do that," Querze said.
Conservation agent Paula Terrasi said 5 percent cuts would lead to a three-hour reduction in her work week, affecting her availability to residents.
Rather than coming in four days a week, as she currently does, Terrasi said she would most likely have to reduce her schedule to three days a week to enable her to supplement her income with another part-time job.
"There would be impacts. I can't see that I could be open Thursday and Friday and stay within the hours," Terrasi said.
The cuts would also mean reduced hours for Planning Administrator Susan Snyder. Snyder, whose hours were cut from 32 hours in 2007 to 28 hours, had asked to have her schedule bumped up to 30 hours per week if an override passes and the department budgets can grow 1.5 percent.
"That additional two hours, it provides me more time to do more research for grants. Sometimes I have to push that to the side. It gives me more time to type agendas, type minutes, answer the phone," Snyder said.
If the cuts become necessary, a reduction to 26 hours a week could be the result.
Planning Board member Anna MacDonald said the extra time would also allow Snyder to work on updating the town's master plan and other important initiatives.
"To cut the one-person departments, to us, it's ridiculous. They're already bleeding and you're going to cut them again," MacDonald said.
Representatives from the town's appeals and inspections departments said the cuts would have impacts on their hours and availability.
The FinCom asked department heads to prepare a budget with a 1.5 percent increase, in case the override passes, but to also be prepared to discuss the effects of a 5 percent cut should it fail.
FinCom Chairman Melissa Tzanoudakis said voters are facing a major choice.
"They have to make a decision on what kind of town they want, and we're at a crossroads. There's path A, which is to cut and significantly reduce our services, which may make us a less desirable town, and we may lose people, or there's path B where we can do an override, try to build in a capital plan, and to try to meet the needs we need to meet," Tzanoudakis said.
Over the coming weeks, the committee will be meeting with all of the town's departments to assess the impacts of potential cuts, before making a recommendation to selectmen on how large an override, if any, should go before voters.
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