FinCom frowns on part-time employee for senior center

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PEPPERELL — Mindful of a $690,000 deficit going in, the Finance Committee last week finished setting a recommended 2007 budget by addressing unsettled departmental requests that came in higher than its recommended 3 percent cap.

The Council on Aging did not receive the committee’s blessing to hire a 12-hour per week person to help oversee late afternoon use of the senior center by a growing number of non-profit groups.

FinCom Chairman Christopher DeSimone brought in a revised council budget that removed $9,029 for the part-time person but adds $8,400 to the senior center supplies account. Council director Sharon Mercurio however succeeded in getting her original budget reconsidered. A motion by Shaun Cummings to that effect passed 5-2.

DeSimone said that while the committee had voted against adding any employees except for the Fire Department, he had changed his mind on the senior center because the population is getting older and the hiring would have to be done next year.

Cummings emphasized that all other departments were asked to hold fast and that salaries had increased last year for the senior center when more help was hired.

Committee member Diane Gaspar said she and Burke Bero had been the only ones to back Police Chief Alan Davis’s request to restore an 18th police position. She appreciated Pepperell’s family-oriented nature and elderly population but called Mercurio’s request “a nose of the camel classic.”

Bero disagreed, saying, “We ask a lot of the community to fund things. We have bitten the bullet on schools and that segment of the population. It would be wrong not to help another segment. It’s a small amount to pay to a place that gives a lot.”

”I wonder if you realize that if Sharon is out (sick) there is no one to take over (her job),” council member Pauline Mahoney said. “All the others work part-time and grant money may not come in with what (Washington) D.C. is doing, cutting everything.”

Cummings moved to set a $155,711 council budget that includes the new hire. The motion failed 5-2.

”I’d like to do everything, but we have a $700,000 deficit,” said committee member John Croteau. Accountant Theresa Walsh noted that “down the road” there is need for a full-time inspector’s position with benefits.

Because a bid came in lower than anticipated, the committee reconsidered and unanimously passed a sanitary landfill line item of $12,100, lower by some $760 for post-closure monitoring of the former Boynton Street landfill by GZA Geo Environmental Inc.

In a similar unanimous vote the committee approved a $432,940 county retirement budget that saved the town $10,000 if paid in full up front.

A new library budget that removed outgoing director Ann Wirtanen’s request to hire a book stacker was discussed. It also did not include roughly $6,000 in book-fine money whose return to the library from the general fund is a separate warrant article at the May 1 town meeting.

The library budget is $1,600 over guidelines due to union salaries and book purchases (libraries are required to spend 16 percent of their budgets on books).

Since the library has roughly $15,000 remaining from last’s year’s state aid and is expected to receive another $15,000 this year, committee member Stephanie Cronin suggested that the state money be used to fund the budget. Wirtanen’s replacement cannot be hired at more than step 4 of the salary matrix, it was noted.

Gaspar felt that since the library has followed guidelines before, they can do it again.

DeSimone said the committee could vote the budget not including salaries. He agreed that the library could use its state aid. He suggested removing the 16 percent book-buying money, telling Wirtanen what the 3 percent cap figure is and “letting her decide.”

It was unanimously agreed to approve a library budget with salaries and wages at the revised budget level and the total of supplies and services not to exceed 3 percent. Excluded from consideration was $1,800 approved by the Capital Programs Committee for two new computers.