PEPPERELL -- As the Finance Committee makes its way through a difficult budget season, a lack of members is causing logistical struggles.
With only four members sitting on a board that is supposed to have seven, all four need to be present in order to meet quorum, committee Chairman Melissa Tzanoudakis said. If even one member cannot attend, the budget meetings can't be held.
The committee is in the process of meeting with department heads to discuss the effect that a 5 percent budget cut would have on each area of the town. The cuts may be necessary if voters do not pass an operational override this spring.
A meeting scheduled for Jan. 23 was canceled due to a death in the family of one of the committee's members. Meetings with department heads for that night had to be rescheduled into other meetings in the coming weeks, but with busy work schedules, and the possibility of other conflicts, Tzanoudakis said she is hoping no more meetings will need to be rescheduled.
She said that although there was some cushion built into the meeting schedule to allow for quorum issues, the committee needs to work quickly to complete budget talks.
"You never know what else might come up, and once we figure out what the selectmen are going to do, we need to make sure there's time to have any further discussions," Tzanoudakis said.
The committee is planning to make a recommendation to selectmen about whether to put an override on the town ballot in advance of the March 10 Special Town Meeting for the North Middlesex Regional High School building project.
Although that is earlier than budget decisions are usually made, Tzanoudakis said providing voters with information about the town budget before that meeting is critical.
"The primary reason is to make sure people can make an informed decision. At the end of the day, whether they vote for an operational override or not, whether they vote for the high school project or not, to give both sides of the town a fair chance of success, voters need to be informed. If they have too little information on either side of the spectrum, we could end up in a situation where everything fails because of a lack of information," she said.
The committee is actively seeking members to fill out the remaining three spots, even if the help is only temporary.
"We would absolutely encourage people to join. As much as I would love to have someone give us a couple of years, even just to get us through this year we'd be willing to take someone on who just wants to fill out the remainder of the fiscal year through June," Tzanoudakis said.
"I'm more concerned at the moment about getting through this trying, difficult fiscal year. To get hung up on a procedural hiccup now so we can't do our jobs is more frustrating than anything," she said.
In the long term, having a full board would enable the committee to put a wider range of opinions into its budget process.
"Each person is going to be bounded by their own experiences and backgrounds. A more diverse board means we can expand the horizons of opinions we can get. We all bring something different to the table," Tzanoudakis said.
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