TOWNSEND -- A new school, a new fire station headquarters and the town's finances are expected to be the subject of major discussions in Townsend this year, according to town officials.
Town Administrator Andrew Sheehan said although the project is costly, the town can't afford not to invest in a new school, and has to simply "bite the bullet" to pay for it.
"There are significant long-term implications for the communities if we don't do the project. It is likely that a brain drain from the district with more kids leaving North Middlesex for charter schools or Nashoba Tech would have a further negative effect on North Middlesex," he said.
"If we fail to invest in the schools, people will be less likely to move here. Young couples that are starting families will look at the infrastructure of the school system and likely keep on going and look for communities that are more willing to invest in their schools," Sheehan said.
Sheehan also identified the town's finances as a major concern for 2014, as officials try to balance a modest budget increase with demands for new town buildings and infrastructure improvements.
"It's going to be another challenging year. We're hoping with some help from the state things will be a little easier than the last several years. As we begin the budget planning process for fiscal year 2015, we'll have to be very conservative and careful about what we are planning," he said.
The issue of funding road repair could be particularly challenging, according to Sheehan.
"We've talked a lot about capital investment, especially in the roadways. It's a challenge that almost every community faces. There are more demands on our funds than we have funds available, and so we have to make some decisions about what we fund and what we don't," Sheehan said.
Some turnover in town hall positions, including the retirement of longtime treasurer and tax collector Kathy Rossbach, is also a development to watch for, Sheehan said.
"We'll have to integrate that staff into the organization and learn from them in terms of practices that they may know and teach them about how things traditionally have worked here. It's about finding a balance between new ideas and tried and true traditions and moving that forward," Sheehan said.
Also on the agenda for 2014 is figuring out how to move forward on construction of a new headquarters for the Fire Department, a project which was stalled after a legal issue kept it from going to a vote at November's Special Town Meeting.
"We lost time as a result of Special Town Meeting and we're looking at alternatives. We despearetly need to do something there as well as looking at different options in the next month or so on how we can approach it," he said.
Sheehan said he expects the fire station building committee to meet with selectmen in January or February to discuss next steps.
Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Sue Lisio said in addition to all of these challenges, the town is also seeking to fill several vacancies on town boards and committees, including one on the Board of Selectmen left by Robert Plamondon, who resigned in November after selling his home in Townsend.
"Just overall the biggest challenge, and something that I can't really figure out a solution to, is getting people more involved in the community. We're in need of volunteers on different committees and people to run for different offices. And people don't necessarily have to worry about a big political race," Lisio said.
"We need people on planning and zoning, they're necessary positions. The energy committee, we can't move forward if we don't have people involved, and it's puzzling to me why people dont want to commit at least one night a month to that," she said.
Town Clerk Susan Funaiole also emphasized the importance of having residents step up to fill the more than 20 vacancies.
"If they are interested in participating in local government to make things better or change things or see how it runs, come to meetings of the board to see what it's about," Funaiole said.
Follow Chelsea Feinstein on Twitter and Tout @CEFeinstein.