PEPPERELL -- The clock is ticking as the Board of Selectmen have less than 10 days to adopt a pricey budget.
The board is currently faced with a projected operating budget of $28.2 million for fiscal 2020 despite having projected revenues of $27.8 million for that year. The board has been mulling over options on how to close the $404,000-plus deficit, with the option of either putting a tax override out for a public vote or cutting town jobs and dipping into the town's "free cash" reserve. The board must adopt a balanced budget for the 2020 fiscal year before March 22.
During the board's meeting on Monday night, Town Administrator Andrew MacLean laid out the official figure for the suggested override at $1.46 million. MacLean said that without the override, the town would have to lay-off seven town employees or reduce hours in a total of $263,000 that could impact public safety, public works and other government services. The town would also have to use over $591,000 of its "free cash" reserve, which currently holds over $902,000 meant for town emergencies, and have a capital account underfunded by $320,000. If the override earns voter approval when it appears on the annual town election ballot this May, no jobs would be cut and the "free cash" reserve would remain untouched. MacLean also pointed out long-term impacts of adopting an override, noting that town budget growth could be capped at 2.5 percent and health insurance costs would not exceed 6.
"We're talking about a million dollars here," MacLean said. "If we don't give the people what they deserve, they'll wind up going somewhere new."
MacLean also laid out a collection of cuts from certain departments' desired budgets for the 2020 fiscal year if the override is not agreed upon. These include cutting two patrol officers in the police department, a $13,000 cut to the Lawrence Library budget to stay in compliance with state aid and cutting unemployment insurance by $1,000. The proposed cuts, which total at approximately $1 million, would bring the operating budget down to approximately $27.8 million.
"I don't think people will leave because they don't get an increase in pay," Board Clerk Lisa Ferolito said. "Just be happy that you have a job."
This lead Town Treasurer Debbie Nutter, who among the packed crowd at the meeting on Monday night, to lash out against Ferolito's statement.
"We work really hard here and we feel like we're disrespected," Nutter said. "Because of the things we sacrifice for the town, we think we deserve an increase. You have to respect the employees of the town."
Pepperell had two previous override propositions since 2014, both were voted down by the public. Board Chair Roland Nutter said after the meeting that the board will discuss the options further at its next meeting on Monday, March 18.