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From left to right: DPW Superintendent Mark Wetzel explains to Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand, Selectmen Christopher Hillman, Gary Luca, Jannice Livingston, Pauline Conley and Selectmen Secretary Janet Lewis that snow removal has been tough this year.

By Amelia Pak-Harvey

AYER -- Echoing a somber message that he told the town of Shirley in January, Ayer Shirley Regional School District Superintendent Carl Mock warned selectmen the town needs to start discussing a sustainable budget with Shirley.

Shirley has been struggling to pay its share of the regional school-district budget, a problem Mock brought before selectmen at Tuesday night's meeting.

"That dilemma of what Shirley can afford and how is going to play out in terms of how much money is on the table for Ayer -- is part of the sustainability going forward," Mock said.

"Ayer is in a very favorable position right now and it looks favorable going into the future," he added. "You have the ability, with your tax levy and new growth on a per kid basis, to support those kids twice as much as the town of Shirley does."

Ayer's portion of the budget assessment for fiscal 2015, including operating assessments and excluded debt, is projected at $10,615,234. Shirley's is $6,290,823. Both towns are facing an increase in operating assessments from last year.

Mock said the district has $1.2 million in unmet needs that were not factored into the draft budget. Even to continue operating as is, the district will need an annual $700,000 to $800,000 that will mostly come from the two towns.

"You guys are in the same boat," Mock said. "You have to make sure you get enough oars in the water to move ahead.



The highest estimated increases in the budget include personnel salaries at $387,000, health insurance at $200,000 and school-choice costs at $70,000.

The disparity between the two towns is a result of the assessment formula, which is based on the number of students instead of the town's ability to pay, according to a note given to selectmen.

School Committee Chairman Pat Kelly said the district has just been "treading water" instead of improving the school program.

"We're just trying to look long term and ask both towns to sit down with us and think long term," he said.

The outlook was not as bleak for the Nashoba Valley Regional Vocational Technical School budget, which projected Ayer's 2014-2015 assessment at $586,955. The figure is a decrease of about $23,000 from last year.

The technical school district also has a warrant item that, after corrections to the estimated cost, should amount to about $2.8 million. The money will go to a roof-repair project at the high school.

Selectmen voted to allow deficit spending for snow removal, and approved a $12,400 reserve-fund transfer for the Fire Department to buy upgraded turnout gear that complies with new standards.

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