PEPPERELL -- Selectmen agreed to sign a letter to the state DOR to postpone a town vote to allow the Water Department to use $180,000 in retained earnings as part of their $1.5 million budget until 2013 annual Town Meeting.
The budget had passed as $1.5 million at this year's Town Meeting, but the wording in the article did not specifically include the need for the amount from retained earnings. Although the article requires a town vote and would otherwise have to go before a Special Town Meeting, with the signed letter, the DOR will allow a postponement. The letter also needs to be signed by the Finance Committee and the Board of Public Works.
Selectman Joseph Sergi questioned why the issue wasn't caught before going to Town Meeting.
"Somehow at some point we ...should take ownership of these this and say these things have to stop happening," he said.
Moak, Town Accountant Gene Ferrari, DPW Director Ken Kalinowski and Board of Public Works Vice-Chairman Greg Rice all said they were willing to take a share of the responsibility, chalking it up to a misunderstanding.
"There was a lack of communication somewhere," said Moak.
The issue is not a matter of being short on money or asking the town for more. The appropriated $1.5 million is enough to run the department, said Moak; additionally, the $180,000 is present in the retained earnings. The issue is a matter of being authorized to spend that money, which acts as a savings account for the department.
"We have the money, but we don't have the authorization to spend it," said Moak.
The annual budget for the department is anticipatory of the year to come and has to be developed with contingencies in mind, said Moak. The department can't operate on a deficit.
"With a budget for something especially like an enterprise, like water or sewer, you can't predict it," he said. "Many different environmental issues or mechanical issues can affect it."
By the time the spring Town Meeting comes around in May, he anticipates that the Water Department will have likely spent less than 80 percent of their $1.5 million budget for the fiscal year, which ends July 1.
"If everything ran fine and we didn't have a drought and people paid all their bills on time, we might not even have to go in for the (whole) $180,000," said Moak. "We have to tell the DOR that, 'Yes, we will agree to, if we need to balance the budget, we will go looking for that money.'"
In other business, selectmen set the parameters of the veteran's tax work-off program voted upon at the Special Town Meeting. They also made changes to the senior tax work-off program. For both programs, the maximum benefit is $1,000 per fiscal year per household. Applicants must be residents of Pepperell for at least five years in order to be eligible. Seniors must be 60 or older; there is no age limit set to the veteran's program. Those eligible for both can only take advantage of one program at a time. Seniors can apply through the Council on Aging; veterans can apply through the Board of Selectmen.