By Anne O'Connor
PEPPERELL -- The budget for the next fiscal year is balanced and revenue is growing.
Town Administrator Mark Andrews plans to keep the town on a solid financial footing. The $24 million operating and capital budget is based on projections of state aid and estimates of school expenses.
The payment for the debt exclusion on the new North Middlesex Regional High School which opens in the fall is not included in the town budget. Andrews said the district did not have the final rate locked in yet and that the expense will hit the tax bills in 2017.
With more people working in town, demands for services are higher. Keeping revenue up is critical, he said. "If you're not out there collecting, it doesn't show up as revenue."
The budget includes pay raises for the financial team, the folks who are out there collecting taxes and fees. The increases are based on the recommendation of a human resources report.
With new growth expected, the fiscal year 2018 budget includes a full-time building inspector so that staff is available when needed.
Audits and financial stability are important when it comes to having a good bond ratings and paying lower interest rates on borrowed money, Andrews said. The town has a Aa3 rating from Moody's. His hope is to make that rating even better.
The budget reflects the actions the town is taking to be more attractive to the rating service.
The town reduced its debt by $153,151 through reduced interest payments following refinancing.
The budget includes increases to areas that improve the community's quality of life, Andrews said.
The Northern Middlesex Council of Governments is doing a study on the Main Street corridor and a second study on a master economic development study. The budget includes $30,000 for a Master Plan.
A new police officer, improved pay for on-call and per diem fire and ambulance personnel and increased pay for a "strong" fire chief is part of the public safety improvements. A cruiser and other police and fire and ambulance equipment are in the capital budget.
The library is fully funded and will not need to request a waiver from the state. The Senior Center will see a part-time outreach worker. The Highway Department will get a new truck and a lease payment for another piece of equipment.
School expenses are more than half the budget. Pepperell already knows the assessment for Nashoba Valley Technical High School.
Andrews expects to see an assessment from the North Middlesex soon. "It's a meandering road," he said. The district and member towns are collaborating on a new budget model.
The town and North Middlesex partnered to use some of Pepperell's Green Community grant money. The improvements to energy efficiencies translate to lower utility bills.
Employees will see pay increases. The budget includes $2,800 for 14 non-union employees to receive $200 longevity payments.
A classification study for non-union employees is budgeted at $13,000. The studies should be done every three or four years, Andrews said. Pepperell's last study was in 2009.
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