SHIRLEY — With a possibly contentious June 6 Annual Town Meeting in the offing, the selectmen and Finance Committee met in joint session Tuesday night to iron out last-minute issues and talk about subjects the boards will address on Town Meeting floor, including the magnitude of the deficit and how to tackle it.
FinCom Chairman Frank Kolarik said he will talk about capital-debt exclusion and the proposed debt-exclusion tax override voters will be asked to consider in late June.
He will also address what might happen if it doesn’t pass.
If it does pass, the town gains a couple of years in which the revenue stream can improve, said Assessor Ron Marchetti, who heads the town financial team.
The deficit could be anywhere from $220,000 to more than $700,000. The final figure depends on a variety of factors, such as whether the debt exclusion passes and whether the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District assessment holds at $4.7 million, or is adjusted down to $4.22 million, as the FinCom and selectmen recommend.
Town Moderator George Knittel and an attorney representing town counsel showed up to talk about Town Meeting procedures. Knittel expected a “pre-Town Meeting meeting,” he said, to assign tasks and other particulars; the attorney called it “scripting.” But Selectman Andy Deveau said he wasn’t prepared to get into “that kind of detail.”
Instead, the boards agreed that a select group would discuss protocol at a sit-down with Knittel and the lawyer after the meeting.
In the meantime, they talked big-picture plans for the town’s future and small specifics that should be included in the presentations.
Amid much discussion and sketching of different scenarios, everyone agreed the town is in deep financial trouble and may have to dig into the marrow, or core of town government, to make ends meet. They got into historic precedent, cause and effect, even pinpointed a past propensity for dipping into one-time revenue to cover recurring costs. But they couldn’t come up with ideas about how to solve the problem anytime soon.
Amid all the angst, Deveau dropped a shell that seemed to shock everyone. He brought up the possibility of receivership, which he characterized as the municipal equivalent of bankruptcy. If the town can’t pay its bills or provide services, there may be no choice, he said.
Kolarik didn’t see it that way. The town might have to make some unpleasant choices when it comes to budget cuts, he said. Trash pickup, for example, or downsizing the Police Department, among others.
But the attorney seemed appalled at the idea of receivership.
“You don’t want the state to take over,” she said. She agreed to provide specifics, but cautioned it might not be a voluntary situation, citing the city of Chelsea and Lawrence schools as two examples of state receivership.
Once in, it can take a long time to get out, she said.