Town Meeting heard a PowerPoint presentation from Finance Committee Chairman Melissa Tzanoudakis before the floor was opened to the public.
By Anne O'Connor
PEPPERELL -- An overwhelming majority at Special Town Meeting Tuesday approved a $1,136,153 increase to the town's operating budget, setting the stage for a Proposition 2 1/2 override vote Tuesday.
By a vote of 264 to 16, Town Meeting backed the increase. If that increase in the tax levy is approved in Tuesday's primary election, the money will be used to restore two police officers and one highway worker and cut other staffing hours at town buildings and capital expenses.
The increase would be a Proposition 2 1/2 override, so the funds would become part of the town's base budget.
"We're trying to make sure the town as a whole can survive," said Finance Committee Chairwoman Melissa Tzanoudakis in an opening presentation.
The impact of the supplemental budget on the overall budget is relatively small, she said, but the impact on services is quite significant.
The town has little control over the schools' budgets, which make up over 60 percent of the total budget, she said.
Compared to nearby towns, Pepperell has the third-lowest budget per capita, the lowest tax levy per capita and, with the current 14 officers, the lower number of police officers per 1,000 population.
In the spring, voters approved a $25 million budget.
The supplemental budget will bring the tax rate for fiscal 2015 to $16.96, an increase of about $400 per year for the average household, she said. The fiscal 2014 tax rate is $15.68.
Once the cost for a new North Middlesex Regional High School kicks in during 2017 or 2018, the tax rate could jump to over $20, according to the presentation.
Town residents spoke both against and in favor of the increase.
"I'm looking at maybe I'll live for five years," resident Peter Nordberg said in opposition, "I'm looking at a 30 percent increase."
Former Selectman Joe Sergi spoke in favor of the increase.
"Now it's time to really look at what kind of services you want," he said, "People aren't moving to Pepperell like they used to."
Both residents received applause from the nearly 300 voters in the room.