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Selectmen quiz departments’ fiscal health as budget season begins


(Second in a two-part series)

By Don Eriksson


PEPPERELL — The 2011 budget-setting season has begun and selectmen, determined to inform the general public and themselves about the current financial state of affairs well in advance of May Town Meeting, recently met with all department heads to hear conditions resulting from last year’s significant $500,000 cutback.

They want to avoid another protracted Town Meeting such as occurred at last May’s five-night session at which an attempt was made from the meeting floor to visit the municipal budget line by line despite the fact the Finance Committee had already done the examination.

They also want to work more closely with financial oversight in order to maintain better communication, more transparency and public focus as the process moves forward.

The “state of affairs” meeting revealed some service cutbacks and a general struggle to stay afloat as revenue dollars shrink. It also brought to light a sense of community commitment and significant personal dedication amongst employees.

The Finance Committee this year has formed two subcommittees to study potential regionalization and privatization of municipal services.


Communications Director Frank Quattrochi reported that his department has been forced to make cuts “beyond what is reasonable,” including a hiring freeze that not only preventing hiring needed personnel but a reduction of a full time position to part time.

“I am very fortunate that my employees are extremely talented and also care about their positions and responsibilities,” Quattrochi said.

The department is “on track” with wages and overtime but may fall short on some items due to unexpected maintenance cost increases on equipment. If it can remain as is without further cuts (a minimum $400,000 municipal deficit is forecast) “we will get by,” he said.

“Photocopier cost is higher by $70. I don’t have it,” Quattrochi said. “That’ll give you an idea of how tightly we cut back.”

Quattrochi, Fire Chief Toby Tyler and police Lt. David Scott have been meeting with the North Middlesex Council on Governments to research possible regionalization of dispatch services, 911-only services and lockup facilities. Two weeks ago, selectmen voted not to sign the town onto an NMCOG-funded $100,000 feasibility study at this time.

Board of Health

Selectman Patrick McNabb read a lengthy list of health department budget cutbacks that include a 70 percent drop in hourly wages, loss of two employees and a 100 percent elimination of local consulting services.

The shift to joining Nashoba Associated Boards of health has replaced the need for a health agent and town nurse, and provided health services with Nashoba personnel. The local board retains supervisory control.

Working hours for the board’s secretary have been drastically cut back from the 30 sought to less than 20, which is a bone of contention. Pepperell is one of 15 member Nashoba communities. Retraining residents to make out-of-town emergency health calls is an ongoing effort.

Board member John Marriner said there is enough money remaining of $14,600 received for monitoring the closed landfill to last three more years. Since just 13 years of the required 30-year monitoring period have passed, he said the need will reappear. The board recently succeeded in reducing DEP-required inspections to two per year.

Marriner said the health board turned $19,000 in permit- fee revenue into the general fund last year. All future fees — adjusted to the regional health board schedule — will go to the associated boards, resulting in a decrease in revenue for Pepperell.


Chief Toby Tyler said the only portion of his budget with a shortfall is in the repair and maintenance account which has about $1,000 remaining halfway through the fiscal year.

Answering Selectmen Chairman Joseph Sergi, Tyler said maintenance is not being ignored. He said Engine 5 is due to be replaced and is currently costing “quite a bit” in repairs.

There is projected $25,000 shortfall on ambulance company salaries due to a greater than usual call volume, which cannot be predicted, he said. The department is 16 calls ahead of the same time last year and has answered 182 more than two years ago.

“We’re still holding off hiring (a replacement) for one paramedic who left,” Tyler said, referring to his department’s current request to establish a paramedic-level ambulance service.

Sergi planned to discuss the request Dec. 21.

“We can’t go there now. I apologize,” Sergi said, “but if safety is compromised we’ll have to do something.”


Superintendent Peter Shattuck said that when the town went to a unified DPW, the Highway Department inherited “quite a task” in providing vehicle maintenance. Everything except special tooling is being done in house.

“I was looking for half a mechanic (position) to go with the (one) full-time to keep up. We’re cost-effective but we’re already in trouble,” he said.

The snow-removal budget is short $70,000, not including the extra cost of last December’s ice storm. Two workers have been laid off and Shattuck feels he may lose another employee.

“If we do roadside mowing we’ll be hard pressed,” he said. “The culvert project (Conservation Commission administrator Ellen Fisher) talked about might not happen, and we probably won’t be able to help out soccer leagues (with field mowing).

Shattuck said he has two on-call snowplow drivers instead of three and “we’re hurting big time in terms of getting things done in a proper manner. I (worry about) with staff cuts what will happen to my overtime,” he said.

In answer, Sergi said, “The community has to decide where to go. It isn’t this board’s responsibility. That’s where (this) discussion is going.”

Planning Board

With a 15 percent cut in its budget and a reduction in staff hours already in place, further cuts would reduce staff hours and could jeopardize statutory requirements for applications, reduce or eliminate oversight of approved projects and would likely jeopardize retention of current personnel, planners reported.

Project permitting is the same as that of 2008, but half of that in 2007. A “significant” issue is completion of approved subdivisions once the roadways are approved as town roads.

The board is working with construction of the Pepperell Family Pharmacy addition, improvements and expansion of Shattuck Oil and, as the housing market continues to rise, several other permitted projects will likely be under construction in the next 10 to 12 months. Two subdivisions and their roads — Beaver Creek Circle and Julia Lane — are close to completion

The board is also working on updating special permit rules and regulations and amendments to zoning bylaws.


Chief Alan Davis said the loss of three officers (one on leave) — 20 percent of the patrol force — is a “significant reduction” at a time when 7,000 calls have been taken by the end of November and domestic violence and thefts increase due to the bad economy.

“Clearly,” he said, “the department has taken two steps backward. We were understaffed when we took the loss of two in July. The Department of Justice says we should have 22. We have 16.”

Davis said a growing problem is response to the core mission calls.

“This afternoon there was a threat of a gun and a car accident at the same time, plus we were not at the flu clinic,” he said. “We have stopped going to ambulance calls.”

Davis said he and both police unions have negotiated reduced contracts and there have been no wage increases. The personal services portion of the budget has been cut $115,000.

Bicycle patrols, ATV patrols and directed-traffic assignments have been eliminated. All state grant funding has stopped, resulting in probable cessation of Community Policing and D.A.R.E. programs in schools.

Less than halfway through the fiscal year, 43 percent of the police budget has been spent.


Less than two weeks on the job, Systems Administrator Joe Traverso said he has identified several key issues that must be addressed.

There has been no antivirus protection and the town-licensed Kaspersky antivirus program is being installed. Many users have been taught to use someone else’s password to access files and some users have three passwords. He intends to migrate from a workgroup-based network to an active directory-based network.

There appears to be no Internet security, allowing any user to browse any site without restriction using any software or protocol. He wants to install a unified threat management solution.

Data backup is a major concern, plus, he said, it is imperative to develop a disaster plan. Having data with no software to install or reinstall as a recovery tool is “useless,” he said.

In addition, most systems need more memory. Slowness is the number-one complaint, followed by lock-ups and crashes.


Cemetery and Parks Manager Terry Spaulding, faced with a 13 percent Parks budget reduction ($86,825 to $75,368 for 2010) said the cutback represents 100 percent of his fertilizer, lime and seed money. Seasonal hours are down to 1,900 from 2,305.

There will be less roto-tilling, no plugging of grass (usually four times per year), and no overseeding of fields. Some of the fertilizer money loss has been made up by donations from soccer and little league organizations, he said.

The cemetery budget is level funded at $36,186 which pays for 800 seasonal work hours.

“Further reductions in 2011 would surely impact the mowing of fields,” he said. “Take it as we can do what we can. We appreciate contributions.”

“The challenge is how to launch (the 2011 process),” Sergi said. “When you look at the deficit you have to say ‘how can we address this?’ We probably should talk with the Finance Committee about strategy.”