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Officials proceed with caution, Selectmen want accountable, explainable budget

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PEPPERELL — The start of fiscal year 2012 may still be more than seven months away, but town officials are taking the tack that it’s never too early to start discussing budget priorities.

On Monday, selectmen met with members of the Finance Committee to discuss the upcoming budget season.

“We would like to keep things running close to the way we’ve been doing them,” said Finance Committee Chairman George Zacharakis. “I feel that myself and the committee want to take a more conservative look at how the town operates.”

Currently, the town has about $1.5 million in reserves and a debt level that is continuing to decrease. Selectmen are interested in knowing what direction can be taken in terms of the town’s budget.

Board members asked the Finance Committee to draw up a letter in the next couple of weeks to include a budget plan that is both accountable and explainable.

As Finance Committee member Melissa Tzanoudakis talked about possible financial strategies for the upcoming year, she warned that each one be approached with caution. She said that if the town has extra money in the budget and just decides to assign it, then it runs the risk of being overly generous and getting itself into trouble. However, if the money is there and can benefit the town, the committee should choose how to delegate it a little bit more strategically.

Town Administrator John Moak suggested that each department head provide a list of projected goals for the next year so that the Finance Committee has an idea of what each department is trying to accomplish. Also, within that page department heads should include what they would need from the committee to get to that point.

Selectman Joseph Sergi agreed that it’s the selectmen’s responsibility to make sure the community is informed. He also wants the community to recognize some of the long-term implications when choosing where and how how the town’s money is spent.

The meeting was only meant to be a general discussion in regards to what to expect within the next year. The Finance Committee will be going over various finance models during the next meeting on Nov. 18.

Selectmen are expecting a more detailed plan of attack from the committee in time for the next discussion on town budget.