SHIRLEY -- Selectman Robert Prescott joined the board after former selectman Andy Deveau resigned, leaving an unexpired term that Prescott was elected to fill last year.
Now, Prescott is running for a full three-year term, the only candidate for the seat.
With the election coming up on May 13, the lifelong town resident and local contractor/developer carved some time out of a hectic working day for an interview.
Although he faces no challenger, Prescott agreed it's important to re-introduce himself to voters and talk about what he hopes to accomplish as a selectman in the next three years.
Prescott's town roots date to the late 1920s, when his great-grandparents moved to Shirley and established a chicken farm.
Prescott served on the Shirley School Committee for nine years. He was part of the long planning process that led to regionalization with Ayer. He then served on the ASRSD School Committee.
After enduring a yearlong "learning curve" as a selectmen, Prescott said the two boards are very different.
He's optimistic about the change in direction the current Board of Selectmen is taking to move the town forward. Having hired a "competent" town administrator, "we've taken a hard look at the budget and made adjustments," he said. Eliminating the assistant tax collector's position, for example.
Other moves aimed at efficient, cost-effective town government include proposals to appoint rather than elect the town clerk and town collector after the current terms expire and to conjoin the positions of collector and treasurer into a single job.
"The schools have made adjustments, too," Prescott added.
But it's not a picture unique to Shirley, Prescott said, noting that other communities are also re-evaluating and realigning municipal operations as they plan for the future.
Prescott said the $138,000 deficit the town faces this year isn't as troubling when compared to previous years. "Of course, it's a problem to be addressed," he said, but past deficits were much worse, more like $500,000, so things are moving in the right direction. "My goal is to continue," he said.
He's interested in looking at "everything on the table," to run the town more efficiently, Prescott said, including regionalization of services "when it makes sense."
Asked about joining the Devens Regional Dispatch Center, an option the town turned down before, Prescott said it's worth investigating, with the facility now up and running. "You have to keep an open mind," he said.
Central to continuing on the right track in terms of townwide goal-setting is to recognize it must be a joint effort, Prescott said, starting with tri-board meetings.
Prescott has advocated for getting selectmen, Finance and School committees together in the same room to hash out common issues. As it stands now, various groups often don't know what the others are doing, he said, and he'd like that situation to change.
Asked about tax overrides, Prescott said at some point townspeople would likely be asked to increase the tax levy above the limits set by Proposition 2 1/2. But not now.
"Not until everything else has been exercised" and the town runs efficiently, Prescott said. "My view now is you can't ask for more money when things aren't as efficient yet as they can be," he said.
If and when there's an override request, it must be general, listing "where the deficiencies are," he said. "Nobody wants to hear it, but the town has a structural deficit," he said, despite progress made recently to reduce it via cost-saving measures, such as reducing the annual outlay for employee health care premiums via changes in the plan design.
But cuts can't solve everything. "We have to decide what we want for services," Prescott said. The DPW, for instance, has only three full-time employees. "Those guys do a lot with very little," he said.
Economic development is high on his priority list, Prescott said. To that end, he was recently appointed to the Economic Development Committee, along with Bryan Dumont.
"We'll never be Ayer or Harvard or Groton," Prescott said, naming towns with more access to revenue than Shirley is likely to have. But he thinks things can change for the better, balancing needed economic growth with preserving the town's rural quality.
The question then becomes, what will it take to do it?
"I'd like to get (local business) people in a room together," Prescott said, people who have been successful, men and women with ideas that can be retrofitted to town purposes.
"There's no reason we can't engage MassDevelopment in this process," Prescott continued.
Prescott represents the town on the Joint Boards of Selectmen, which serves as an advisor to MassDevelopment and a sounding board for stakeholder towns as well as the Devens community and the state agency, all of which have seats at the JBOS table.
"Not every business" that contacts MassDevelopment finds a "good fit" in Devens, Prescott said, indicating that some of them might be re-directed to seek a place in Shirley.