SHIRLEY — Despite a stated aim to come up with a compromise for the $1.2 million deficit the town is facing, the Board of Selectmen and Finance and School committees have been unable to reach a consensus.
With the Annual Town Meeting now set for June 16, the selectmen held another deficit meeting May 27. However, no School Committee members were present, and only a couple from the Finance Committee attended.
To date, the school district has cut more than a half-million dollars from its budget, but the selectmen haven’t finalized cuts or set a figure for the government side. Selectman Enrico Cappucci and Chairman Leonardo “Chip” Guercio have submitted lists of proposed cuts.
Town administrator Kyle Keady has as well, at the board’s request. His lists, updated as the deficit talks continue, also include possible new revenue sources.
Selectman Armand “Andy” Deveau presented his list at the meeting, but he said cuts are secondary to the division of the deficit between the schools and government. In his view, he said, the tri-board’s agreed-upon 50/50 split should be revisited.
“My concern is we’re making severe cuts without a clear understanding of what’s fair,” he said.
After spending the Memorial Day weekend reviewing figures the boards have been working with for the last several weeks, he said he came up with “different conclusions.” Assuming the deficit is a concrete number — $1,235,848 — he said a 66/34 percentage split between the schools and government is more accurate.
Details Guercio asked for will be covered in a “second body of work,” said Deveau. “Determining the appropriate split should come first.”
“That’s a very simplistic way to attack the problem,” said Finance Committee member Cheryl Hayden.
Instead, she suggested prioritizing services to decide on cuts.
“Is trash pickup more important than educating our children?” she asked.
“It’s the Finance Committee’s responsibility to make those recommendations,” said Cappucci. “This is step one.”
“You’ve never gotten off step one,” Hayden retorted. “We can’t come up with the budget.”
It’s the selectmen’s job to do that, she said.
“We will, tonight,” said Cappucci.
But they didn’t. The board agreed to meet again May 29, at 7:30 p.m., to vote on Deveau’s proposal and consolidate cut lists.
Guercio, however, indicated he won’t go along with his colleague’s pitch to slice the deficit pie so that the schools take the lion’s share of the hit.
It’s no secret the school budget is the largest chunk of town spending, he said, nor is that unique to Shirley.
“We know there are different ways to look at it,” he said.
But the larger group agreed to split the deficit in half because it’s a workable solution to a problem the whole town shares, he said. The premise has been that the school budget has drastic cuts already and any more would destroy the school system, he said.