TOWNSEND — Municipal department heads have submitted proposed budget cuts in an effort to cover the $417,728 shortfall created when Townsend did not approve an override to supplement the North Middlesex Regional School District budget.
The two other towns in the district passed the override. Townsend cannot raise the tax levy to cover it, but must find the difference in its approved budget. The town will hold a special town meeting to vote on the amended budget. The date has not been set for the meeting.
“I added these up. There are $222,385.68 (in cuts) which seems to me to be an absolutely marvelous effort,” said Finance Committee Chairman Andrea Wood at the Sept. 20 meeting.
The library “made a significant cut” of $14,600, she said. “They did a really nice job.”
The Police Department eliminated a communications supervisor position that was unfilled and cut another position from 40 hours to 15 hours.
The Fire Department made some cuts under general salaries and the Highway Department cut some overtime, she said.
Proposed cuts were due to the town administrator on Friday, Sept. 14, but the Finance Committee did not have proposals from all town departments.
“Andy (Sheehan, the town administrator) sent me the departments he received cuts from,” Wood said.
“I have personally some other cuts I thought could be added,” she said.
The Facilities Management Manager was allocated an additional five hours weekly in the upcoming year’s budget that could be removed, she said.
The executive assistant to the town administrator position was cut to 19 hours, a savings of about $15,000, that is not reflected in the figures she received, Wood said.
The town could also send the municipal health insurance plan out to bid, committee member Carolyn Smart said. Health insurance costs could be further cut if employees pay a larger percentage of their premiums.
The town should have between $400,000 and $600,000 in free cash this year, Smart said. The figure is based on her own estimates.
Some of this money could be used to cover one-time expenses, she said.
The Board of Health could make changes to the curbside trash pick-up program and leave the MassToss program, saving about $89,000 a year, Wood said.
If these changes could not be made until the next budget year, some of the free cash could be used to cover this amount for one year, Smart said.
One possible savings could be made by reducing the number of days town hall is open, Sheehan said in the past.
He met with individual employees (Sept. 20) to discuss cuts in hours, Smart said.
Sheehan confirmed the meetings. “It’s tough to make cuts of this magnitude,” he said in a follow-up phone call.
If hours are to be cut, he did not want people to hear about it through meeting minutes. “I wouldn’t do it any other way,” he said.
He met with Town Hall employees and department heads of non-Town Hall departments who will talk with their staffs.
No one’s health benefits will be affected by his proposed reduction in hours, he said.
“Only maybe a couple of people” would have their hours reduced enough to qualify for partial unemployment, Sheehan said.
His budget cuts are only recommendations. The Board of Selectmen will make the final decision on the budget article for the special town meeting.
The Finance Committee posted a meeting for Tuesday, Sept. 25, to coincide with the Board of Selectmen’s meeting when Sheehan is scheduled to present a budget with his suggested cuts.
“I know the majority of employees will be attending as well,” Smart said.
Sheehan asked Town Counsel for a finding on what the role of the Finance Committee is during the process of amending a budget for a special town meeting.
Sheehan has taken on the entire responsibility for recommending budget cuts to the selectmen, Wood said.
“I really don’t understand what our role in this whole thing is,” she said.
Town Moderator Gene Rauhala is also looking into the bylaws in preparation for the upcoming special town meeting, Smart said.
“I don’t know what to do. We’re stymied here,” Wood said.
“We just have to wait and see what the whole plan looks like,” committee member Nancy Rapoza said.