AYER -- The Finance Committee finalized its recommendations on the fiscal year 2015 budget last Wednesday night, supporting an increase of about five percent in the operating budget.
Ayer's portion of the school district's assessment is currently set for an increase of about $446,000, leaving about $9.3 million for the school operating budget -- a 4.77 percent increase, more than the 3.96 percent increase the committee originally requested. Another roughly $1 million is budgeted for debt on the high-school project, plus a portion of Shirley's debt on the middle school that the town agreed to pay last year.
A $150,000 increase in the reserve fund is set aside for potential costs of a legal battle the town might end up having with Bolduc Enterprises, its deputy tax collector that is accusing the town of an alleged breach of contract.
A few requested positions have yet to be vetted with the Board of Selectmen. The committee voiced some questions over the proposed town engineer position worth $70,000.
Houde said that Department of Public Works Superintendent Mark Wetzel estimated savings at $120,000 per year if the town were to hire a town engineer. But Houde was concerned about the number of current DPW projects that would actually need an engineer.
"At what stage in the process are the current projects themselves beyond engineering and just unfinished, where this position might not actually add any value?" he asked.
Despite these questions, the committee supported the funding for a nonunion town engineer. The final decision will be up to Town Meeting.
The other new position of deputy fire chief, set at $75,000, had won support from the committee in the past. But Gabree noted that there are still some questions over whether the position would be union or nonunion. The Finance Committee's recommendation supports a nonunion deputy chief, which will also have to be approved at Town Meeting.
The costs of both positions are in the recommended budget, but will be further discussed with the Board of Selectmen April 22.
A $7,000 increase in the police lieutenant's salary did not win backing from the committee, as Houde suggested waiting for the nonunion compensation study to return .
The Finance Committee also took out a requested part-time children's librarian position for about $16,000, as Houde noted that he had reached out to the library director for more information but did not hear back.
The Finance Committee's recommended budget, which will be groomed over with selectmen and sent out to department heads, will be finalized with Town Meeting approval.