PEPPERELL — The Finance Committee voted on Thursday to transfer $55,000 from its reserve fund to supplement the town’s veteran’s benefits program.
Veterans agent Joe Mazzola provided the committee with information the week before, but the item could not be voted on because the committee was unable to reach a quorum.
The veterans’ program currently has 16 enrolled recipients, with one pending. Each month, the program uses about $15,600; with the new recipient, it is estimated to go up to $16,400. The state reimburses 75 percent of the cost.
At last year’s Town Meeting, the town had appropriated $75,000 for the program, but with the increase in unemployment for veterans as well as the number of military personnel returning from overseas, the amount proved to be substantially lower than what was necessary for the program to operate.
“If everyone stays on the whole year, which (Mazzola) doesn’t actually think they will, we’re looking at $196,000 (for the fiscal year), plus or minus a few pennies,” said Finance Committee Chairwoman Melissa Tzanoudakis. “Joe thinks it will be closer to $165,000.”
The additional amount from the Finance Committee’s reserve fund is planned to last through April. At that time, Mazzola will have the opportunity to ask for additional funds from Town Meeting to finish up the fiscal year.
If the warrant article is denied, Mazzola will likely have to return to the Finance Committee to ask for additional funds, especially as the benefits program is required by the state.
Veterans who receive unemployment are ineligible for the program; however, a federal bill is still pending over whether veteran’s unemployment will be granted an extension. Several veterans have exhausted their unemployment benefits; if the bill doesn’t pass, they won’t be eligible to receive unemployment past December.
“If they don’t extend it, we may be getting even more people coming over,” said Tzanoudakis.
The committee also voted to transfer $500 for the Personnel Board for physical exams and randomized drug tests.
In other business, the committee voted to request two preliminary budget projections from department heads, a 0 and 1 percent increase over last year’s budget. The request is based around an estimate of the town’s fiscal 14 general fund, which Town Administrator John Moak provided at last week’s meeting. The estimated operational budget for the town is listed at $7,648,300, which represents a 1.5 percent increase over last year’s budget. But with several still undetermined factors, such as the North Middlesex Regional School District budget and the amount of state aid the town will receive, the committee said the estimates are fluid.
For instance, said Tzanoudakis, she wouldn’t be surprised if the school considered additional security measures.
“With everything that happened in Connecticut, it would be foolish of us not to consider that they might submit seperate line item for security in light of a lot of schools trying to take a more semi-proactive stance with tyring to manage security,” she said.
Additionally, other departments have costs than can be difficult to project, such as the veterans benefits.
“These are projections only,” said Tzanoudakis. “(The requests for budgets) gives us an idea of where (departmental) needs fall.”