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Correspondent

SHIRLEY — George Knittel forwarded a “radical suggestion” at the Dec. 3 Budget Committee meeting.

Speaking not as town moderator, he said, but as a private citizen, Knittel proposed a merger with Shirley, Ayer and Devens to form a new, mega-municipality.

“It’s just an idea,” he said, but it may be one whose time has come.

What would you name a town comprised of Shirley, Ayer and Devens, Selectman Andy Deveau asked. “Sad?”

Knittel smiled. A more appropriate name would have to be found, he said, but his suggestion was no joke.

“As an observer, I’ve tried to stand back” and take a look 10 years into the future, he said, with an eye to the “hundreds of thousands of dollars” the town will need to stay afloat. But cost savings presented during the previous budget cycle won’t accomplish that. While fuel and energy conservation measures proposed then were “commendable” ideas, they won’t solve long-term problems, he said. But a merger might.

Town administrator Kyle Keady has “pulled rabbits out of hats” for years to forestall a deficit that couldn’t be deferred this year, Knittel said, with a $1 million shortfall looming next year. And given the dismal economic forecasts, things probably won’t get better any time soon, he said.

Noting the alternative energy sources such as solar and water power that Deveau has proposed, Knittel said, those initiatives would require start-up funds and wouldn’t generate enough revenue to offset the investment.

But Deveau disagreed, citing a windmill project at Holy Name High School that paid off. Besides generating power for the campus, the school turned a profit and sold excess energy back to the grid, he said.

The discussion segued to school regionalization as one form of merger the town is pursuing. It will involve start-up costs and may not generate revenue, but it will benefit the town.

“The savings is saving education,” School Committee Chairman Bob Prescott said. Without it, “we won’t have the money to serve our students.”

Budget Committee Chairman Frank Kolarik agreed with Knittel that one way for the town to bring in more revenue might be to form a new town with one or more other communities, establishing a “pool” of resources and putting the towns in a stronger position to weather tough times together. “It’s what companies do, merge and share benefits,” he said.

“Gentlemen, I don’t know if this idea makes any sense but I want to suggest it as an ‘out of the box’ idea (for the selectmen) to consider,” Knittel said.