PEPPERELL -- The Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen discussed next steps in addressing the looming possibility of a 5 percent cut in the town's operating budget unless a Proposition 2 1/2 override is passed.
Although the Finance Committee did not have enough members present to hold an official meeting, the discussion Thursday included talks on possible override options, the impacts of the budget cuts and a timeline for how to best proceed.
The committee has introduced three options for overrides, which could raise the tax levy by about $600,000, $800,000 or $1,000,000.
The lowest option would help the town counter with its growing structural deficit over the next three years. The $1,000,000 option would cover the deficit over five year, while also providing some money to start a capital plan.
Finance Committee Chairman Melissa Tzanoudakis said that for the $800,000 override, the tax impact on the average $300,000 household would be about $216 per year.
"When you really look at the impact per household and look at the impact on services, at the end of the day you're getting a lot of value for that," she said.
Throughout January and February, the committee will hold meetings with each of the department heads to determine the impacts that the cuts would have.
Department heads have been asked to come prepared with a budget reflecting a 1.5 percent increase, as well as an explanation of how the potential cuts would affect the departments' operations.
Tzanoudakis said the committee is more interested in learning about the practical impact than receiving a line-item budget reflecting the cuts at this time.
"We really want them to focus on the actual impact," she said.
Committee members also discussed the impact of the North Middlesex Regional High School building project on the likelihood of an override passing.
The high-school project, which would require a debt exclusion, will be voted on in March or April.
"I don't think they're mutually exclusive. I think that both can occur at the same time. But as a town what we have to decide is whether to essentially spend money to make money, by attracting people to the town or to cut and make ourselves less attractive," Tzanoudakis said.
Tzanoudakis also asked for feedback from selectmen before her committee makes its official recommendation.
Although he said seeing a more detailed breakdown of options was necessary to make a decision, Selectman Stephen Themelis said it is clear something needs to be done.
"We're not making any progress. We still have a deficit and then you'll have to worry about next year and then it's the school," Themelis said.
"If we're talking 5 percent we need to know ramifications for all departments. We have no choice. We have to face the music," he said.
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