PEPPERELL — As she sat down for an interview at Charlotte’s Cozy Kitchen, Margaret Scarsdale was carrying a notebook with her to keep track of her busy day and the work she’s taken on in her new role.
Scarsdale was elected as the newest member of the Board of Selectmen last week during the town election on April 22. With the vote for an override of the 2020 fiscal budget looming and Pepperell currently in Massachusetts Land Court over a soil-reclamation proposal on Nashua Road, it’s just two more things to add to Scarsdale’s to-do list.
“For the last year and a half my life has been busy with this to-do list,” Scarsdale said last Friday. “Now it seems like a gift to have all of these things that I have to work on.”
Scarsdale’s schedule includes meetings scheduled with Police Chief David Scott to discuss one-day liquor licenses for potential town events in the summer and the fall festival. She also plans to meet with Pepperell Senior Center Director Susan McCarthy to talk about how the 2020 budget will impact the local seniors and their tax dollars.
“I deliver Meals on Wheels for the seniors and I talk to them when I’m there,” she said. “I understand how severe an increase of $200 or $300 a year might be for them and in my mind, it is not acceptable for someone to have to cut back on food or medicine or home upkeep because Pepperell has these issues. I said at the Candidates’ Night in April that my vision for Pepperell included a town whose budget respected its values.”
She’s well aware of the public consensus on a Proposition 2 1/2 budget override, but asked residents to consider the alternative, which would lead to multiple jobs being cut to balance the budget.
“Nobody wants an override,” Scarsdale said. “We’re either going to save ourselves a few dollars by not doing an override or we’re going to pay mightily next year when we have no choice because now, we don’t have the funds to fund our own budget and we’re paying a human capital price in losing a police offer that we’ve already invested in and sent to training. I feel like if people understand the reason why we’re asking for the override, that will go a long way in helping it pass.”
In terms of the open lot at 161 Nashua Road, Scarsdale has been a vocal opponent to the proposal since it was first presented on June 28 last year. She openly protested the proposal as a member of the Pepperell Watchers Group and cited that the discarded soil from various construction sites set to be dumped in the lot, which sits over a water plume that goes out to the town’s fourth water well, contain dangerous chemicals including lead and chromium-6 which has been identified as a cause of cancer from prolonged exposure.
“If your water is contaminated and you’re trying to do downtown revitalization, good luck selling your house telling people, ‘By the way, you need bottled water for the rest of your life.'” Scarsdale said.
She suggested that the lot could be turned into a small industrial park or, if its zoning was changed from industrial to commercial, solar panels or a recreation center could be installed at the location. For now, she said the board is taking a “wait and see” approach to the case as it’s still open in Land Court.
“It’s good for developers, it’s not good for the small communities that take this dirt and then have to deal with the consequences of it,” she added.
Scarsdale has a stacked resume of community action since she first moved to Pepperell back in 2003. She’s volunteered at the Senior Center along with serving on the town’s Cultural Council, Town Administrator Search Committee, By-Law Committee and the Light, Air and Noise Committee.
She said that she knows working on boards doesn’t come with big perks: frequent town-wide challenges debated for long hours with little appreciation. But she felt great inspiration to continue fighting for her community when she was part of the state-wide coalition to keep Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP from running a gas pipeline from Wright, N.Y. to Dracut back in 2014
“There was this slow awareness that government and politics don’t just happen out there,” she said. “It really is local. Can I effect change on a local level … Yes I can, and it feels really good.”