SHIRLEY -- Facing a $300,000 budget deficit, selectmen authorized Town Administrator Patrice Garvin to initiate cuts, including staff reductions, to close the gap.

Monday night, Garvin told the board she had notified the Planning Board of plans to cut its administrator's time from 20 to 15 hours per week, also saving the town the cost of insurance benefits for that position.

Averaged over a year, with paid vacation and sick time factored in, Planning Board Administrator Anna MacDonald's actual hours in the building totaled less than 15 per week, she said, indicating that the work could be done in fewer hours and explaining why she had targeted that position to cut, because it would not hurt services, Garvin said.

The Planning Board, however, as an elected board not under the selectmen's jurisdiction, can object and Chairman Jonathan Greeno told her his board plans to do so at Town Meeting, Garvin said. Thus, it's up to voters to decide if the proposed cut goes through.

No such objection was raised when the assistant tax collector's position was eliminated, saving the town $45,000 a year in salary and benefits, Garvin said. Toni Callahan, who has worked in the collector's office for nearly 30 years, was laid off.

Callahan can retire, Garvin said, and as a retired town employee would be eligible for coverage under the town's insurance plan, paying 50 percent of the premium cost.


Long-term, the plan is to consolidate the treasurer's and tax collector's positions into a single job, Garvin said. Each position pays about $60,000 per year, plus benefits.

The move would require Town Meeting approval and a ballot vote, she said. But Town Collector Holly Haase has said she won't fight it, although as an elected official she could have done so.

Haase confirmed that assertion after the meeting.

Knowing the town is in financial trouble, she also knows changes are long overdue and hopefully will work out in the long run, she said. Asked how she'd get by without the 23 hours a week her assistant provided, Haase said Garvin worked out a split with another clerical assistant in the building for some of that time.

Garvin said she's also working with the Insurance Advisory Committee and will meet with unions in an effort to make cost-saving changes to the employee health insurance design plan.

The Ayer Shirley Regional School District assessment, however, is still a problem.

Garvin budgeted for a 4.88 percent increase in the assessment this year, costing the town $460,000. But the School Committee budget now calls for an 8.6 percent increase and would cost the town nearly twice that amount, Garvin said.

Asked after the meeting if the district assessment issue could lead to more layoffs if the higher number prevails, Garvin said it's possible. Still, she hopes to "work with the school," she said, and the health insurance cutbacks look promising.

Once the deficit is down to a manageable number, the town could dip into free cash to close the gap, Garvin said, but staff reductions seem to be the only option if more cuts are necessary on the expense side.