Skip to content

GET BREAKING NEWS IN YOUR BROWSER. CLICK HERE TO TURN ON NOTIFICATIONS.

X

Plans A, B and C: No painless ways to reduce $1M deficit

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

PEPPERELL — Finance Committee Chairman Diane Gaspar made it very clear that closing the $1 million town budget gap would be painful without an override.

“We looked at places in the budget where we could close that gap,” Gaspar told the 55 department heads, employees and residents in attendance at Monday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, and said there were three options.

Plan A would reduce the deficit to $480,000 by utilizing $450,000 in free cash, another $80,000 from capital items, and $40,000 by adopting the Nashoba Associated Boards of Health, as well as lay-offs in several departments.

Plan B would cut even further, reducing the deficit to a little over $311,500 by laying off one full-time police officer, one full-time highway employee, and going so far as to shut off street lights, reduce the Senior Center staff and services, and cut staffing for Parks and Recreation.

“Now we’re digging more into the bone of what Pepperell is all about,” Gaspar said as she detailed what it would take to get to a zero deficit, or Plan C, including using $100,000 in retirement funds, closing the Community Center at a savings of more than $25,000, reducing salaries and wages by 10 percent, and hitting the police budget for a further $36,000.

“Now we’re digging more into the bone of what Pepperell is all about,” Gaspar said as she detailed what it would take to get to a zero deficit, or Plan C, including using $100,000 in retirement funds, closing the Community Center at a savings of more than $25,000, reducing salaries and wages by 10 percent, and hitting the police budget for a further $36,000.

The suggestion that the $3,000 of funding for Memorial Day activities was also on the table brought an immediate response from VFW Post 3291 Quartermaster Tony Saboliauskas.

“Memorial Day is the reason that all of us can sit here tonight and cut this and cut that. Memorial Day is the reason we have anything in this country. It’s the reason we have a country,” said Saboliauskas, who vowed to get his entire membership to the town meeting to influence the vote.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Lyndon Johnson was quick to respond that “nothing is written in stone” and his support for Saboliauskas’ position was quickly echoed by selectmen Joseph Sergi and Patrick McNabb.

In response to a number of questions regarding individual proposed cuts, Sergi explained, “What is ultimately recommended through the warrant at town meeting can be amended.”

Town administrator Robert Hanson added, “Whatever motion is made cannot exceed the requested amount; you can go down but you cannot go up.”

Highway superintendent Peter Shattuck questioned what the impact on the tax rate would be if an override was successfully voted on at town meeting for each of Plans A, B and C.

According to Johnson, using an “Override vs. Budget Cut Summary Sheet” handed out to attendees, an override of the entire $1 million deficit would increase the average annual tax bill by $258.88. A partial override of $480,107 would increase the average annual tax bill by $124.45, while an override for $311,681 would increase the average annual tax bill by $81.82.

“More than just the schools will be affected if we have to come up with a million dollars,” Johnson said. “It’s 71 cents a day to keep all the services and not dig into anything. I think we need to think about this before laying people off and cutting services.”

Town treasurer Michael Hartnett cautioned that the town’s A1 bond rating could be impacted.

“It will likely drop,” said Hartnett, who suggested that the impact on future borrowing could be a half percent.

Sergi asked the highway superintendent what the impact of layoffs would be on his department.

“Will you be able to plow the roads with those staff reductions?” Sergi asked.

“In time. It will take longer,” Shattuck replied.

Police Chief Alan Davis was more pragmatic about the effect.

“There is no question, with the cuts I see here, that if we did all of these without an override, the Police Department would not be effective and efficient,” Davis said. “With these cuts, there will be calls that go unanswered in our community.” Davis noted that the cuts would reduce his patrol officers by 20 percent.

Lawrence Library Director Debra Spratt warned that the proposed cuts would cost the library its accreditation.

“If we lose (accreditation), I don’t receive state aid money, which is a little over $16,000 a year,” Spratt said. “We will not be able to do any inter-library loans, of which we had about 16,000 of those last year alone. Your library card (would be) good nowhere but in Pepperell. Other towns will not accept the library card.”

“If we lose (accreditation), I don’t receive state aid money, which is a little over $16,000 a year,” Spratt said. “We will not be able to do any inter-library loans, of which we had about 16,000 of those last year alone. Your library card (would be) good nowhere but in Pepperell. Other towns will not accept the library card.”

North Middlesex senior Jessica Lewis, who works part-time at the library, expressed concern over the loss of teen events at the library. “The library is such a wonderful and safe place for teens to go,” she said.

Senior Center Director Sharon Mercurio made it clear that the proposed reduction in her budget would have significant impacts on senior citizens.

Mercurio added that community groups would no longer be able to use the Senior Center, either.

“I can’t justify that if I’m cutting it for the seniors,” Mercurio said. “I can’t open it at night for two Girl Scout troops and a CCD group to meet here.”

Hanson added that even a successful override would not be the end of it.

“If you went to the million-dollar override and cut no services,” Hanson said, “you’re kidding yourself because over the next several years the situation is not going to go away, and you’ve got to start trimming somewhere sometime. So you’d do better to start trimming and have a reduced amount in the override because you’re going to have another one next year.”

The projected budget deficit for FY2011 is equally staggering, at $947,000, and the town in FY2012 is expected to be a little over $1 million short.

The selectmen plan to hold another meeting on the budget at the Senior Center on April 25.