SHIRLEY — Selectman David Swain is the incumbent, running for a second term. Challenger Armand “Andy” Deveau, a builder, is a former Planning Board chairman.
The Board of Selectmen candidates offered their visions and answered questions at a recent forum.
Deveau proposed visionary ideas from a can-do perspective.
“I came here in 1982 to start a business and build a home,” he said.
He did both.
During that process, he said he came to the Planning Board, first for permits then as a member.
“Government got into my blood,” he said.
He’s served on several town groups, including the Benjamin Hill Park Committee. The construction of a building there at no cost to the town is an example of a volunteer effort at its best, he said.
Links to area businesses helped with the project, he said. For example, Lorden Oil donated a furnace and installed it free. Moore Lumber provided materials at cost.
That’s the kind of networking he said he’d foster, if elected.
“I want to be a selectmen to make a difference,” he said. “It’s a natural progression.”
The question now, he said, is, “Why are we where we are?”
He displayed a line graph based on data from the state Department of Revenue Web site. It shows a deficit developing over a 12-year period.
One line represents “what we need to raise” to pay the bills, he said. The other shows actual revenues from license and permit fees, state aid and taxes, he said.
“Here’s where it gets scary,” said Deveau.
The lines haven’t merged since 1997, he said. The town has been dipping into trusts and MCI prison mitigation money to close the gap, he said.
“(But) the cookie jars are empty,” said Deveau. “We can’t put this burden all on taxpayers.
“The Finance Committee has said we have to stop spending our savings,” he said, but maybe decision makers missed the point. He called for creative solutions.
Instead of accepting “fixed costs” that keep rising, he said he favors cutting utility bills by tapping solar, geo-thermal and other alternative energy sources. The technology is there, he said.
Citing models and networking links, Deveau sketched a setup that could offer substantial savings. It includes linking big power grids to small solar and hydropower operations via Mass Municipal Wholesale Electric Company, a nonprofit go-between.
The town must also attract businesses to generate a “positive cash flow,” he said.
Swain was more circumspect but no less decisive as he spotlighted the $1.8 million shortfall the town is facing and talked about closing it.
His public profile started with the Board of Assessors. He then served on the Finance Committee for six years before becoming a selectmen three years ago. His other activities in town include the 250th Anniversary Committee, Boy Scouts and the Rotary Club, he said.
Swain also represents the town on the Ayer-Lunenburg-Shirley Regional School District Planning Board that’s exploring a possible school district merger. Regionalization can be part of a long-term school improvement plan that may also offer financial perks, he said.
As costs have gone up and state aid has failed to keep pace, the Board of Selectmen has been working with other town boards and departments to address the situation. Right now, the $1.8 million dollar shortfall is in the spotlight.
With $900,000 in cuts proposed on the school side, the municipal side has “a number of options” to cut costs, he said, but no firm number has been determined yet.
Energy consumption is only one of the issues the tri-board has discussed as it has explored ways to tighten the town’s belt, he said.
The hit list also includes closing the recycling center at the town dump, privatizing ambulance services and even eliminating the Fire Department. Another option would be to limit free trash pickup to one barrel per household and impose a “pay per bag” fee for more.
In addition, sewer betterments for town buildings — now paid with MCI funds — might be offset by a surplus in the sewer betterment account.
“That’s a possibility we’re looking into,” he said.
Another is finding new ways to pay for capital equipment. The town’s capital plan cycles upgrades and replacements over time, but the Finance Committee has recommended putting capital buys on hold for now.
Swain stressed holding the line on spending for all departments, including the schools. He cited several options to “offset costs,” such as tapping interest from trust-fund investments and spacing the time between veterans benefits receipts and payouts.
Long range, he recommends plans that are more proactive, he said. For example, he favors community development and continuing a plan already in place that gives tax breaks to businesses. It’s a win-win for the company and town, he said.
But it’s not enough.
“We need a committee” to work on business development, said Swain. But only two people volunteered, he said, and “I’m one of them.”
Another area of concern is the cost of energy and the need to cut costs and find new “green” sources, he said, citing the Municipal Electric company and its access to grants. Other moves in that direction include energy audits for town buildings.
Both candidates placed senior citizens’ issues high on their priority lists, such as hiring a Council on Aging director and establishing a senior center in town.
The forum was sponsored by the Shirley Volunteer and filmed for Cable TV.