PEPPERELL –The Pepperell Senior Center will take a one-week furlough in the coming fiscal year, due to the Finance Committee cutting $4,407 — or 2.5 percent — of the Council on Aging’s budget.
That message was delivered to the Finance Committee on March 25 by Senior Center Director Sharon Mercurio, who said the council approved the furlough to offset a variety of line items cut earlier in the month.
The list included refreshments, postage and sundries. Mercurio said those cuts aren’t fluff, but would impact core services, prompting the council to take action.
“We felt the only way to make it work was to take the furlough,” said Mercurio. “We have a really tight budget.”
Mercurio said the furlough would be taken between Christmas and the New Year, saying the senior center doesn’t get a lot of traffic that week. She expected the furlough would also impact the Meals on Wheels program that week, but added arrangements would be made beforehand to compensate.
At the meeting, Mercurio told the committee she was frustrated that she only heard about the cuts after the fact, saying she would have liked an opportunity to discuss them first.
Finance Committee Chairman Chris DeSimone said that all department heads were asked to compile five-percent reduction budgets this year because of an anticipated $400,000 shortfall for the town. However, he said only a handful of department heads were invited to discuss their budgets, in large part because the committee has four new members and it would have taken until June to get through the budget.
DeSimone credited committee member Michael Landino for taking the lead on the senior center budget, insisting against cuts that would impact staff, activities and personnel.
“You were treated fairly,” said DeSimone. “If I knew you wanted to come in, I would have invited you in but it wouldn’t have been any different.”
Mercurio responded amicably enough, saying she just wanted to tell them communication had been an issue.
In other news, the committee had a brief discussion with Board of Health member John Marriner about the prospects for increasing the weekly hours of the Health Board’s secretary.
The Board of Health put forward an essentially level-funded budget, seeking $93,439 for the coming fiscal year. But it also called for bumping the secretary’s weekly hours from 15.5 to 25. DeSimone was adamant the health board would need to speak with the selectmen on that, before the finance committee would get involved.
“The Finance Committee does not set policy in the Town of Pepperell,” he said. “I’m not going to take that responsibility, that belongs to the Board of Selectmen.”
Health board secretary Sandra Grogan said the Board of Health is autonomous of the selectmen when it comes to staffing issues and she’d gotten that opinion verbally from town counsel beforehand.
DeSimone acknowledged that may be the case, but reiterated the health board would need to speak with the selectmen first. He also expressed concern that the health board was zeroing out everything else in its budget to accommodate the increased hours for the secretary.
Marriner said that wasn’t the case. Instead, he said the health board was able to get its professional services contract with Nashoba Associated Boards of Health dropped from $63,000 to $56,000 in the coming year. Further, he indicated there’s overlap between what Nashoba and the secretary can do in the office and it’s a choice of paying $35 per hour for Nashoba or $20 per hour for the secretary.
Regardless, DeSimone said the issue would need to go before the selectmen first. The health board reps indicated that’s what they’d do.
Looking ahead, DeSimone said Finance Committee review of the omnibus budget was nearly complete and he expected they would start reviewing the Town Meeting warrant shortly.