PEPPERELL -- Selectmen voted 3-0 Tuesday night to approve an exit-incentive program that Town Administrator John Moak said could prevent layoffs and save the town money in the long run.
By allowing those close to retirement age to accept a one-time payment in exchange for leaving their jobs early, Moak said he hopes to prevent having to lay off staff if a Proposition 2 1/2 override fails next Monday. Without the override, the town's operational budget will be cut by 5 percent, making layoffs likely in some departments.
The offer of a one-time $8,000 payout to full-time employees and a $4,000 payment to part-time employees is available to employees 59 or older with at least 15 years of service to the town. The offer would also reduce retirement costs over time, Moak said.
"It's just one way to possibly encourage some people to take retirement maybe a year earlier than they would have, which helps us in the long run," Moak said.
Moak said nine employees are eligible for the program, and guessed that three were likely to accept the offer at a total cost of $20,000 to the town this year.
Up to $21,000 could be transfered from unused health-insurance benefits with the approval of selectmen and the Finance Committee, he said.
"Given the circumstances we're in with the budget we're facing, it's a way to possibly save us some money," Selectmen Chairman Michael Green said.
Selectman Michelle Gallagher questioned how the town would pay for it if all nine eligible employees took the offer, but Green said that was unlikely.
"It only makes sense for a handful of people to really do it," Green said.
Selectmen also attempted to grapple with a 22 percent increase in their assessment for the Nashoba Valley Technical High School budget.
Nashoba Tech Superintendent Judith Klimkiewicz said the increase was largely due to Pepperell's enrollment, which jumped from 116 students to 140 over the last year.
She said the majority of the increase in the assessment was a result of the state formula for the minimum contribution.
"It punishes some and benefits others and there's really no control of it," Klimkiewicz said of the formula.
Selectman Stephen Themelis said that on top of the town's financial struggles, the Nashoba Tech increases were particularly hard to swallow.
"We have a structural deficit we're dealing with, we're looking at an override of $1.1 million that the town will be voting on Monday at Town Meeting, and in our budget we're looking at allocating a 22 percent increase for the Nashoba Valley Technical High School. Bringing this out to the future, it just won't work, and that's what we're grappling with right now," Themelis said.
The district's materials budget is increasing by 90 percent from last year, due largely to the increases in student enrollment, Klimkiewicz said. Additionally, the school has hired a third guidance counselor as well as a school psychologist. The total proposed budget of $12.4 million is a 5 percent increase from last year.