PEPPERELL — A business-friendly talk came with a significant caveat.
Thanks to a new law passed in August, 1A Auto is planning a new headquarters that will retain 90 jobs in town and add another 150, Town Administrator Mark Andrews said. He was speaking at the Pepperell Business Association breakfast on Feb. 26.
When he worked in Haverhill, the prospect of just an additional 50 jobs would have left him jumping out of his shoes in excitement, Andrews said.
Before taking the position in Pepperell in December, Andrews worked for several municipalities, including Haverhill, Lawrence, Wareham and Wenham. He brings his experience and contacts to work for Pepperell.
“We want to make sure Pepperell people get the first shot at new jobs,” he said, and has been in contact with Middlesex Community College to get the school involved with the town.
Other new and existing businesses bring revenue to Pepperell, he said. The opening of the new medical center is a positive step.
Recent permitting for Masy Systems, Inc. has meant payment of thousands of dollars of fees to the town.
PBA President Derek Ten Broeck praised Andrew’s energy and work so far. “This guy is literally in the first 90 days just rolling up his sleeves,” he said.
But Andrews warned that much work remains to be done to improve the economic situation.
“The budget is the Achilles heal,” he said.
“We’ve got to put our house in order,” he said. Businesses need every possible way to make themselves successful.
Andrews praised the teams he works with. “We’ve got a great leadership team,” he said. The Board of Selectmen is fantastic and the department heads are good.
A new budget process will show where the money has come from over the past 10 years and what it was used for, he said.
The town is stepping up delinquent tax collections, he said. Between unpaid property taxes and water and sewer bills, $346,000 remains outstanding.
The answers are still playing out, he said, but “you spent reserves more quickly than you should have.”
After studying the data and hearing from all the department heads, he expects to have a budget ready for mid-March.
He said he does not favor overall cuts and would like to restore services that were cut when overrides failed.
Other ideas would help save money or generate new funds.
The selectmen have met with an energy aggregator. By joining a coalition of towns, individuals and businesses may be able to purchase electricity at a lower rate than they currently can, he said. Customers can also choose to remain with their current providers.
Becoming a Green Community would open opportunities for more grants. Purchasing the street lights would also mean a savings.
Andrews distributed copies of his goals, which are available on the town website.
“I really love your report,” said Laurie Masiello, president and chief executive officer of Masy Systems, Inc.
“You measure and then you improve,” she said.