PEPPERELL -- Harsh budget cuts will come to the town's biggest departments if a Proposition 2 1/2 override article fails at the May 5 Town Meeting.
The Finance Committee on Thursday night hashed out the details of how budget cuts would be distributed among town departments if voters do not pass the override.
"I think we have to look at the priorities of the town, such as public safety, but at the same time, I think everybody has to bear some burden," said committee Chairman Melissa Tzanoudakis.
The Finance Committee is preparing two budgets to present to voters May 5. One would show a 1.5 percent increase to the town's operational budget that would be made possible if voters pass the override. The other would reflect the cuts that would result if the override fails.
The total cut in the operating budget for fiscal 2015 would be about 9 percent, but by focusing the biggest cuts on the largest departments, those departments would have to cut about 7 percent each.
The departments that would need to cut 7 percent would include the police, fire, library, senior center, planning, highway and conservation departments.
Some of the smaller budgets, such as Summer Playground and the Memorial Day parade, will be eliminated, the committee decided. Others that rely on small budgets to operate would be cut less, depending on their needs and their contractual obligations.
In previous meetings, department heads informed the committee that the cuts, if distributed evenly across departments, would mean layoffs of police officers, reductions in hours for Town Hall employees and service cuts at the Lawrence Library and the Senior Center.
Department heads will be able to decide where to cut within their own departments, Tzanoudakis said.
Figuring out where to cut is not an easy task, member Elliot Cohen said.
"We're at a point now where we're going to impact public safety," Cohen said. "The town still has to function, but I don't know as far as where you could possibly pull this off and still function as a town."
Member Holly Seiferth said there was simply no way to cut the budget without serious and widespread impacts.
"This is an issue of tax revenues really never meeting what our expenses are," Seiferth said.
"At the end of the day, I don't think this budget is workable," she added.
The Finance Committee also approved a reserve fund transfer request for $3,300 to cover oil costs at Lawrence Library.
Tzanoudakis said Library Director Deb Spratt made the request because the library has already overspent its oil budget for fiscal 2014. The $3,300 would cover the existing deficit and pay for the next two bills.
"This transfer really would cover them for oil for the next few weeks, but that's just about it," Tzanoudakis said.
After that, the library may have to return for another transfer request, she said.