PEPPERELL -- The Finance Committee gave a preliminary recommendation to selectmen Monday for a $1 million Proposition 2 1/2 override to close a budget deficit and avoid harsh cuts to the town's operational budget.
If no override is passed, the town's operational budget would need to be cut by 6.8 percent to balance the budget based on new projections, up from 5 percent cuts that were previously predicted.
Finance Committee Chairwoman Melissa Tzanoudakis said the $1 million override, the largest the committee had considered, would allow the town to balance its budget and provide for future expenses by starting a capital plan.
"Our first choice would be $1 million, that would hopefully get us out five years and cumulatively would give us $1 million to put toward a capital plan, absent any significant emergencies," Tzanoudakis said.
The $1 million override would result in a tax bill increase of $262 for the average Pepperell household, valued at $282,000.
If the North Middlesex Regional High School project passes in the spring, the combined total of the $1 million override and the debt exclusion to fund the new building would cause a $742 increase in the tax bill of the average Pepperell home, valued at $282,000, Tzanoudakis said.
The increases from the high-school project would not hit tax bills until 2017, Tzanoudakis said.
The committee has not made a final decision and is also considering overrides of $600,000 or $800,000, but Tzanoudakis said those amounts wouldn't be enough to allow for a capital plan.
"The Finance Committee has been working diligently trying to put together various scenarios based on a tiered approach -- a Band-Aid, a little bit more of a Band-Aid, and a little bit more of a long-term solution that allows us to deal with a capital plan as well as the shortfall," Tzanoudakis said.
That process has included meeting with each of the town's department heads to discuss how the cuts would impact their departments. For most, the cuts would come down to staffing, Tzanoudakis said.
"For the majority of departments it's in their personnel," Tzanoudakis said. "Over the past few years we've been really skimming them down in hopes that things will turn around. There's nowhere else to skim down by now."
Tzanoudakis said she recommended to several department heads to brainstorm ways to increase revenues by offering more services, such as the Summer Playground program extending to full days.
"I think people really need to start stepping up to the plate a little more and looking for more revenue through services, because it really can't all be left up to the taxpayers," she said.
In addition to allowing the departments to increase their budgets by up to 1.5 percent for fiscal 2015, the override would close a growing budget deficit.
The deficit has grown more than originally anticipated due to an increased assessment at the Nashoba Valley Regional Technical School for next year, said Town Administrator John Moak. The town's increased assessment is a result of a rising student population at the school, he said.
With the new numbers taken into account, the town is facing a cumulative deficit of more than $4 million by 2019 if nothing is done.
The committee will make a formal recommendation at the next selectmen's meeting on Feb. 24 after further discussions.
"We're really trying to make sure what we give you will do our best to address the needs, but not go too far either," Tzanoudakis said.
The decision of whether to put an override on the ballot, and how much the override should be for, will be up to selectmen before the town election on April 28.
Selectman Michael Green urged residents to contact the selectmen's office with any comments about the potential override as the board members prepare to make their decision.
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