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By Jon Bishop

jbishop@nashobapub.com

AYER — Because of an expected budget shortfall, the Nashoba Associated Boards of Health Executive Committee voted Jan. 8 to increase town assessments by 4 percent for fiscal 2016.

Terri Counihan, the finance and human resources manager for the boards of health, said that home care and hospice used to offset the assessments, but that’s no longer the case.

“You can’t count on that anymore,” she said. “We have to look at the long-term.”

Nashoba’s income for the total fiscal 2014-2015 forecast — derived from assessments, fees, grants and donations, and interest/investment income — was $927,729. Its expenses, which included salaries, benefits, consulting, insurance and leased equipment, totaled $1,127,590.

Counihan said that she’s “talked … about what kind of things we do on the public-health side that could be cut” or reorganized.

Lunenburg’s George Emond, chairman, said that “if we have to do this … we have to see what kinds of savings we can realize.”

But, “if we do see that we need to have an increase, have the increase,” he said.

Jackie Esielionis of Shirley said that a potential increase “shouldn’t be a big surprise to people.”

“You want your budget and your funds to support you through your dark times,” she said, adding that it’s been kind of dark.

“I would say: yeah, we’ve got to do something now, if we’re prudent, if we’re smart,” she said.

Counihan presented two potential budgets, the first of which showed dramatic increases in community health, 290 percent, making it a 63 percent assessment increase. She said this would be unacceptable, but it was meant as an example to show what would need to be done to break even. Under that model, both expenses and income were at $1,112,649.

Chris Slade of Bolton said that the second version, which showed modest increases, might be a good place to start, as the organization had gone for years without any increases.

Emond said that another problem is Washington, D.C. Whenever they come up with a method to control the costs, the big guy in Washington changes the rules, he said.

Counihan said that much of this is up for discussion, as they can find things to do.

“We need the board to tell us what things the agency can provide for you,” she said. Is it antiquated to have a dental program, for instance? That’s something they could talk about, she said.

Emond agreed.

After a bit more discussion, the committee voted to go with the second proposed budget, which would increase assessments by 4 percent to member towns. Under that model, there would be a $186,630 shortfall.

After the meeting, Emond called the increases “necessary, but the increases themselves will not cover the entire deficit.”

Because there had not been increases for some time, Counihan called the increases a positive.

Not all member towns were present, but the committee achieved a quorum.

The Nashoba Associated Boards of Health serves the towns of Ashburnham, Ashby, Ayer, Berlin, Bolton, Boxborough, Dunstable, Groton, Harvard, Lancaster, Littleton, Lunenburg, Pepperell, Shirley and Townsend.

The Nashoba Nursing Service and Hospice, which operates under the auspices of the Nashoba Boards of Health, provides quality home health, hospice, and community health services to the 15 member towns, according to its website. The Nashoba Nursing Service and Hospice is a governmental, nonprofit Medicare-certified agency, commonly referred to as a visiting nurse association, its website said.