SHIRLEY -- When selectmen and Finance Committee members mulled solutions to close the FY2014 budget gap in a joint session Monday night, the problem on the table was a projected deficit that they tentatively trimmed from $550,000 to $142,000.

Not a solution, but close. At that point, FinCom Chairman Frank Kolarik suggested trying for a debt exclusion to pay for a capital items on the purchase list -- a $160,000 dump truck for the DPW -- since the amount was so close to the bottom line the two boards had worked out and the move could result in a balanced budget to take to Town Meeting next month.

But nobody was enthusiastic about it, and Selectman Kendra Dumont surmised that town voters would have "no appetite" for an override request.

Instead, they plucked sufficient money for capital expenses totaling $320,000 from various accounts, including the Capital Stabilization Fund and Free Cash.

The group also scratched significant budget increases some department heads had asked for and continued to eye a level-funded line -- or as close to it as they could get -- as selectmen Chairman David Swain read through the 20-item draft warrant.

Having discussed the rationale for line item costs that went up, such as computer operations and deciding to table for now a request from Police Chief J. Gregory Massak to hire an additional police officer, another potential hurdle they came across was a late-in request from Town Clerk Amy McDougall to hire an assistant to help out in the busy office, where she's chronically short-handed since long-time volunteer Marjorie Marcincewicz retired.


Accountant Bobbi Jo Colburn explained that volunteer help available before, "almost full time" was no longer there, and McDougall has said the new part-time position is a must. But besides finding the money to fund it, the job description hasn't been scoped out by the Personnel Board and there's no ready-made niche for it on the wage and salary classification grid.

"My concern is there's no position," Colburn said. But apparently it's in the works. The Personnel Board has launched a job and pay scale study for which a consultant has been hired and has started work, she said, with results expected for presentation at the fall Town Meeting. The consultant can sit down with the Town Clerk to sketch out the proposed new job and present it to the board, she said.

For now, though, the Assistant Town Clerk's position will have to wait. "How am I supposed to pay somebody (for a job) that doesn't exist?" Colburn asked, framing the dilemma in practical terms.

Kolarik posited that helpers could be borrowed from other departments, but he conceded that's probably not feasible.

"I can't imagine what offices we'd take them from ... realistically," Dumont said.

Swain asked for some clarification. "We pay $58,000 for a Town Clerk, if you fill in with a 19-20 hour a week position, is it an assistant or what?" he asked.

Quoting from McDougall's memo to the board, which apparently came in after the deadline for such requests, Colburn confirmed the title and said that at 25 hours, it would be a position with benefits.

"Even if approved, it might be for fewer hours," Kolarik mused.

"Why not start by getting it on the grid, following policy like everybody else," ventured FinCom member and Principal Assessor Becky Boucher.

The request was eliminated from the budget, for now.