AYER -- Following a bleak message about new legal costs for Ayer, was another budget presentation to the FinCom Feb. 26 from Ayer Shirley Regional School District Superintendent Carl Mock.

As he told selectmen last week, there is an unmet need of $1.2 million in this year's budget. Ayer's operating budget is expected to take a 7.6 percent increase at about $9.6 million, while Shirley's is set to increase about 11 percent to $5.9 million.

And Shirley is struggling with the ability to pay for the school system, a problem that has sparked a call for long-term planning that will stabilize the district's future.

Drawing on the atmosphere from the previous night's school advisory meeting, Chair Scott Houde questioned why Shirley entered the regionalization agreement when they cannot afford to pay even a 3 percent increase in their budget.

He said the solution cannot just be to have Ayer pay the difference just because it is able to.

"We want to pay what we feel is our fair share, but we want to make sure that if we're going to take our pains that everyone takes their pains," he said. "What I look at in Shirley is a revenue problem."

The two towns are forming a panel with representatives from each board of selectmen and finance committee, as well as the town administrators and town accountants to discuss the issue.