PEPPERELL -- Selectmen will ask neighboring towns of Townsend and Ashby for assistance in making adjustments to the budget for the North Middlesex Regional School District.
Selectmen and Town Administrator John Moak discussed difficulties with their contribution to the school budget at a meeting Monday night.
Moak said the town's failure to meet its target share in the school budget as required by the state has resulted in a penalty, which would increase Pepperell's structural deficit.
Under the state's plan, Moak said, towns that are more than 2.5 percent short of their target share are issued a penalty of about $150,000. Pepperell's budget proposal was 2.8 percent shy of the target share, making the town liable for the penalty.
The formula for target share requires Pepperell to contribute a $472,000 increase from its contribution in fiscal 2013. The town had originally anticipated an increase of between $250,000 and $300,000, Moak said.
Each town's local contribution is determined by a formula based on several factors, including property valuations and income in the communities.
Moak said that to compensate for the penalty, Pepperell can vote to decrease its appropriation by $150,000 with a two-thirds majority in a town vote, but he is concerned about how this reduction would impact the schools.
To attempt to reduce this impact, Moak is drafting a letter to Townsend and Ashby, whose local contributions went down under the new formula. The letter, which is to be reviewed by selectmen, will ask those towns to consider raising their contributions to the school budget to compensate for Pepperell's decrease.
"We need to ask Townsend and Ashby to work with us," said Selectman Michael Green.
This would allow Pepperell to avoid increasing its structural deficit without a negative impact on the school system.
Selectman Stephen Themelis acknowledged that Townsend and Ashby have their own financial health to consider as well, but reaching out to them is a good first step.
Moak said the priority is controlling Pepperell's deficit without harming the schools.
"This whole formula has been somewhat unfortunate as it really hurts the schools," Moak said. "We can try to get our $150,000, but we don't want the school to be hurt."
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