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Sheehan: Challenges to come, but town has been frugal

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TOWNSEND — Andy Sheehan signed up to become the town’s new administrator Aug. 3, and he’s enjoying his new role in Town Hall.

“I really like the diversity of the challenges I face,” he said.

“No two days are ever the same. I’m working with a good group of people here in Town Hall. It’s a pleasure to know that we’re all working towards the same goal: to benefit the people of this community.”

Sheehan came to Townsend to act as the town’s interim administrator following Greg Barnes’ departure in May. Earlier this month the Board of Selectmen offered him a permanent position, paying a salary of $80,000.

Sheehan was serving as the assistant town manager in Westford before coming to Townsend.

“I heard that Townsend was going to be looking for a new town administrator, and so I called and inquired about the position,” he said.

Sheehan saw this as an attractive opportunity to take his next career step.

Sheehan said that the town has done a good job of living within its means, even in these tough times, and that the town budget is balanced and sound.

“They did not rely on gimmicks and sleight-of-hand to balance the books,” he said. “They did not rely on non-recurring revenues to meet recurring expenses.”

That is not to say that there are no challenges facing the town: Sheehan cited rising health care costs, the expiration of stimulus funds and falling state revenues in 2012. He also listed “the wild card” of school assessments as a major challenge at a time that there are no signs that the tax base will be expanding in the near term.

Sheehan wouldn’t speak on the ongoing discussions about adding Lunenburg to the North Middlesex Regional School District, saying he wasn’t very involved in those conversations.

However, quoting the findings of a recent study by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue that projected that Townsend could save approximately $140,000 per year if Ashby and Townsend were to consolidate their police and dispatch services, he said regionalizing these services seemed to hold out some promise, though he didn’t want to appear to speak for Ashby on the subject.

Other ongoing challenges include:

* The Wheeler Road Bridge: Construction on the Wheeler Road Bridge is expected to begin next week, and the work is being done by New England Infrastructure of Hudson. The project is expected to be finished sometime next fall. The Wheeler Road Bridge was limited to one-lane traffic Aug. 7, 2007 and was permanently closed to all traffic March 31, 2009.

* Electric provider: Sheehan has been participating in ongoing meetings with Unitil while the town continues to explore the possibility of contracting with another electric power provider.

* Reducing energy costs: Townsend continues to seek ways that the residents, businesses and municipal government can increase energy efficiency and reduce heating, cooling and lighting costs.

* Roads: Stretching Chapter 90 funding from the state to keep up the town’s roads and bridges. This summer, state monies went chiefly toward repaving parts of Warren Road and repairing culverts where needed.

On the plus side, Sheehan commended Sterilite as a “great corporate citizen,” and said the building housing the Townsend Public Library, the Townsend Senior Center and the public meeting room was a “remarkable donation” from Sterilite to the people of Townsend.

But most of all, Sheehan is impressed with the people of Townsend who give so willingly of their time and talents.

“There is a great sense of community in this town, and the people take pride and ownership of their town. That is the thing that sets this community apart,” he said.

Sheehan is a single father who has shared custody of his two children, James, 17, a senior; and Julia, 14, a freshman at Acton Boxborough High School. The Sheehans live in Acton.