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SHIRLEY — Though the fiscal year 2009 budgets vary in amount, the question for all of them remains the same: How can the town fulfill its obligations with less money?

Treasurer Kevin Johnston quoted a conversation with a professional alliance in response to the question during the March 24 Finance Committee meeting.

“Provide the services your constituency demands,” he said, but citizens should be aware that those services cost money.

“Is there anybody that knows what people want?” asked committee Chairman Frank Kolarik.

Johnston said trash pickup, for one.

The cost of operating far exceeds the tax increase allowed under Proposition two and a half, he said. The state mandates under the proposition that towns can only raise the tax levy by 2.5 percent each year. Any amount over that requires an override.

No one wants to see taxes go up, said committee member Cheryl Hayden.

But if citizens are unwilling to vote at the upcoming Town Meeting to raise revenue for the town, she said, services will have to be cut.

“They need to know that,” said Hayden.

Tax Collector Holly Haase met with the committee as well to answer members questions regarding expenses. She suggested her department could save money on mailings and supplies by combining two of four quarterly tax bills.

However, according to other towns that have reduced the number of bills issued, she said some money will have to be spent to remind people that their taxes are due. Postage and bill printing make up a majority of the tax collector s office costs, she said.

Otherwise, it would be difficult to cut those costs, said Haase. Therefore, she has submitted a level-funded budget.

Johnston brought to the committee a level-funded budget, a level-service budget and a budget worksheet reflecting a 5 percent decrease as the committee requested. But he said some of the expenses he cut on the worksheet would render the department inoperable.

Kolarik asked whether it would be feasible to cut employees hours from 37.5 a week to 35. Using workers available through the senior tax work-off program may help defray the resulting additional workload, he said.

“I think I would be hard pressed to tell someone that works for me that I’m going to cut their hours and give them to someone else,” said Johnson.

Union employees bargain with the town for their pay rate and out-of-pocket expenses for health care, he pointed out. There’s another group of employees that can’t bargain, he said.

“The town should get a little tougher on these bargaining agreements,” said Kolarik.

In any business, if you can’t raise revenues, you have to cut services, said Johnston. He said he hopes that the town can find a way to spare employees jobs and avoid cutting their pay.

“Our employees are our most valuable resources,” he said.

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