PEPPERELL -- Town department heads are bracing for harsh cuts after a proposed $1.1 million Proposition 2 1/2 override was defeated at the polls Monday by a margin of six votes.
Cuts of about 5 percent to most town departments will mean the elimination of two police officer positions, reduced hours at the library and senior center, and cuts in the library's materials budget.
The cuts were necessary to balance a structural deficit that is expected to grow to $1.9 million by fiscal 2019 without an override.
Pepperell Police Chief David Scott said the reduction in funding will bring the department down to 14 full-time officers, the same number there were when he was hired 20 years ago.
"Our detective has been moved to midnight-shift patrol. Our overtime budget is insufficient. Training will suffer even more than it has over the last several years," Scott said in a prepared statement. "We won't be getting the cruisers we need. All of this adds up, and when you factor in a heroin problem that the governor has declared to be a public-health emergency, it adds up even more."
The two police positions that will be eliminated have become vacant in recent months, meaning no layoffs are imminent at the department. But the reduced manpower means the department may struggle to cover shifts, Scott said.
The cuts would also make it difficult to attract officers to work at the department, according to Scott.
"We have a lot of great people that work here at the Pepperell Police Department, but this constant lack of funding is not going to attract talented young people to come work here," he said. "Votes like this have an impact beyond the current loss of two more officers."
The override would also have begun funding a capital plan, as well as routine maintenance on the town's buildings.
The town spent $210,000 earlier this year to rid the public-safety complex of mold after years of deferred maintenance left the building inhabitable. While the building is being cleaned and the air-filtration system replaced, police officers are working out of trailers in the parking lot.
At the Lawrence Library, the cuts mean the building will begin closing at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays instead of 8 p.m. starting in July. A furlough week will also be held from July 1 through July 8.
The library's materials budget will be reduced, and money for newspaper and magazine subscriptions has been eliminated entirely, according to Library Director Deb Spratt. Library programs may be impacted as well, depending on if there is enough funding available to staff the programs.
"We're a service industry, and the only way you serve people is by being open and having adequate staffing and items that people are requesting. Those are all going to be impacted," she said.
The library always closes on Saturdays in the summer, but could have to carry that tradition through the winter as well, Spratt said.
The library's state certification may also be on the line due to underfunding, Spratt said. She said that although she has been granted a waiver for the past three years for being under the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners' Municipal Appropriation Requirement, that pattern may not continue with the new cuts.
The Pepperell Senior Center is also preparing for reduced hours. Director Marcia Zaniboni said the building will most likely have to close by 2 p.m. every day to cut electricity costs. It is currently open until 3 p.m., and remains open on some evenings to host special programs and meetings.
"We'll have to try to squeeze what we can in earlier in the day, but our mornings are really busy. We're just going to have to compact what we do into fewer hours," Zaniboni said.
The fate of the Senior Center's programs will be decided by members of the Council on Aging in the coming weeks.
"We may be cutting some programs. We'll definitely have to do them all earlier. We may be asking the Friends (of Pepperell Seniors) if they can help support some programs," Zaniboni said. "We'd like to not cut any programs right now. They're all doing really well, which makes it tough, but some cost us more than others so we're going to have to take a hard look at that."
The cuts will also mean the loss of one employee at both the Highway Department and the Communications Department, and reduced staffing hours at the Fire/EMS Department, according to the Finance Committee.
Funding for Summer Playground and the Memorial Day parade will be eliminated entirely.
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