PEPPERELL — In March, Pepperell held a Special Town Meeting so voters could allocate $150,000 to put toward mold remediation in the public-safety complex.
Finance Committee Chairwoman Melissa Tzanoudakis thinks that expense, which was supplemented with $60,000 from the Finance Committee’s reserve account, may have been preventable if maintenance had been made a priority in recent years.
“If we had in our budget the ability to handle regular repairs as they came due, then we wouldn’t have to deal with emergencies to the same degree as we’re having them now. Not having it in the budget to handle minor repairs is what allows them to become major when they’re ignored too long,” Tzanoudakis said.
That’s why Tzanoudakis is pushing funding for a capital plan as part of a Proposition 2 1/2 override proposal that would also balance a growing deficit in the town’s operating budget.
Selectmen have expressed support for an override of at least $1 million and voters will take up the question this spring.
Tzanoudakis said $1 million would provide $500,000 the first year to start a capital planning fund. Over five years, the total amount put toward capital expenditures would be close to $1 million, she said.
For years, Tzanoudakis said, many minor repairs, routine maintenance measures and necessary equipment purchases have been paid for through free cash, or deferred.
“Unfortunately, Pepperell has never had a plan,” Tzanoudakis said.
But those measures can’t continue forever, she said.
“We’re at a point with free cash where it’s so low, we cannot tap that to be able to handle even small things this year. If we do not do something about making sure that the necessary components of our budget are in place, the town cannot continue to function at even a basic level,” Tzanoudakis said.
She compared the town’s position to residents not budgeting for large home repairs.
“If you don’t build those things into your home budget, then you’re not going to be able to handle it when it comes due and it’s going to impact your ability to handle your regular expenses,” she said.
If funding for capital planning becomes available, Tzanoudakis said, the town’s Capital Planning Committee would be charged with reviewing and prioritizing all capital requests, with the highest priority items receiving funding first.
The Finance Committee will be presenting two budgets at annual Town Meeting on May 5. The town is legally required to present a balanced budget, which would slash department budgets by about 5 percent. Another budget, which allows for a 1.5 percent increase to keep level services if the override is passed, will also be presented. This budget would allow for funding a capital plan.
Tzanoudakis said the 5 percent cut would mean job losses and reduced services.
“Just because we can plug numbers into a computer program to get to an end number doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do,” Tzanoudakis said.
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