PEPPERELL — Department heads were given the opportunity to stand before selectmen and finance members Thursday to explain what a 1 percent reduction in the fiscal 2012 budget would mean for each department.
The town is projecting a $500,000 structural deficit for the coming fiscal year.
The meeting began with discussion regarding the North Middlesex Regional School budget. If the schools would like to maintain services at the same level being provided today, they would be looking at a 6.7 percent budget increase, which is an increase of more than $2 million.
Selectman Joe Sergi reminded everyone that whatever figure was voted on will likely result in decreased town services.
“The public needs to help us talk to School Committee members and let them know that it is a balanced approach,” Sergi said. “It’s important that the roads get plowed; it’s important to deliver fire or EMS services and it’s important for the library and the senior center to stay open to the public.”
As one would assume, all department heads voiced concerns about reductions in municipal services. Few of the most prevalent issues included the reduction in labor hours, lack of funding to repair or maintain buildings and equipment, and also the possibility of additional furloughs.
“It’s a continued erosion of municipal services that folks need to be aware of,” said Sergi.
For both the Highway Department and the Pepperell Police Department, a 1 percent decrease in budget would result in one officer being laid off and at least one Highway employee laid off.
According to Police Chief David Scott, not only would a 1 percent decrease in the fiscal 2012 budget mean a loss of one officer, but it would also mean the continued lack of 24-hour supervision and a loss of capital funding that could prove critical in the coming months.
The Police Department is already down two officers. Town officials have taken notice that the department is beginning to resemble what it was in the ’80s. Thirty years ago, the town’s population was somewhere around 4,000 to 5,000 residents; today it exceeds 12,000.
As for the Highway Department, previous layoffs have meant less manpower with a whole lot more to do. The department has done everything they can with the resources given them, but a greater loss in staff would mean decreased road services to an extreme, which would mean everyone in town would have a lot more trouble getting around.
When Sergi asked Highway Superintendent Peter Shattuck if a 1 percent decrease would result in layoffs, Shattuck responded, “I have no other place to go.”
DPW Director Kenneth Kalinowski added, “A reduction in labor would be extremely destructive to the town.”