By Rick Sobey
PEPPERELL -- Residents at the annual Town Meeting on May 6 will be asked to transfer $200,000 from Pepperell's reserve account to cover a deficit caused by regional school funding this year.
Due to a state formula that determines how much Pepperell funds the North Middlesex Regional School District, the town will need to take about 12 percent out of its reserve account this year, according to Town Administrator John Moak.
"Instead of looking for an override, we'll have to tap into our reserves," Moak said. "You never want to use the reserve account for our operating budget, but we got hard hit by the school funding formula.
"It's either devastate government with $200,000 in cuts or fund it with reserves and get us back on track," he added. "We've already cut considerably with major cuts in general government over recent years, so to cut $200,000 more would be very devastating."
There is about $1.7 million in the town's reserve account, with $1.1 million in free cash and $600,000 in stabilization funds, according to Moak. Tapping $200,000 would set the town back a bit, as the town administrator hoped to get back to a balanced budget in fiscal 2014.
"We were going for a balanced budget, and then we got hit by the state formula for funding of the regional schools, where the amount came in $200,000 more than expected," Moak said. "The use of free cash for funding an operating budget is not something that can be an annual occurrence.
The funding was $200,000 higher than expected because Pepperell's real estate values did not drop as much as neighboring towns that contribute to the regional schools, according to Moak. In addition, the state formula factors in the residents' incomes and the town's ability to raise funds locally, based on Chapter 70 funding, he said.
But Moak doesn't expect there to be much controversy at the Town Meeting in May.
"There's nothing too extraordinary on the warrant," he said. "There's some equipment and building maintenance to deal with, but nothing out of the ordinary.
"The Finance Committee said we need to come in as close as we can to the bottom line like last year, so we'll try to reach that again," Moak added.
The equipment and building warrant articles deal with police cruisers, a new roof on part of the library (or an option to repair it), a recycled oil heater at the highway division, insurance compliance repairs at Town Hall and Fire Department protective gear.
Warrant articles were due to the Pepperell Board of Selectmen by March 7. Moak said selectmen are expected to approve the warrant at their April 1 meeting, sending it to the Finance Committee, which will then make further recommendations.
April 10 at 8 p.m. is the deadline to register to vote for the annual Town Meeting, which will be held on Monday, May 6, at 7:30 p.m. at the Nissitissit Middle School. If necessary, Town Meeting will continue on May 7.