SHIRLEY -- When Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, seeking "efficiencies" to trim the town budget, targeted the Planning Board, among other items, cutting the administrator's hours from 20 to 15 hours a week, Chairman Jonathan Greeno resolved to fight the move at Annual Town Meeting.

The position was previously cut from 30 hours to the current 20, which Greeno said is barely adequate for Planning Board needs, citing the risk of a housing or industrial development getting a free pass if the board doesn't meet mandated filing deadlines.

If paperwork falls through the cracks and doesn't get in on time, the development is "approved by default" and the town gets "no say" as the project moves forward, Greeno said. "It would be a disaster."

Positing that it's not a matter of whether but when this happens, Greeno made a pitch for the status quo. "I ask that we keep it at 20," he said, handing over the amendment he'd drafted, which would change the line item to $19,128.08, or $4,979.18 more than the recommended amount.

John Oelfke, who serves on the Devens Enterprise Commission, a one-stop review board that is the sole permitting authority for Devens in lieu of land use and health boards, said he supported the request. "It's a huge risk," he said. "This budget has minimal heart and soul."

Garvin didn't flinch. "You do not look at the people but at the positions," she said.

In this instance, she averaged out time the administrator spent on the job over a two-year period, subtracting time off that as a "benefited employee" she had a right to take. Garvin said the real time total then became 8 hours a week.

Asked where the money would come from if Town Meeting approved the Planning Board's request, Garvin said it would be "free cash or another revenue source."

She and Finance Committee Chairman Mike Swanton said earlier that if the school's original request were approved, Free Cash would dip into negative numbers.

This request would also add to the benefit bottom line, Garvin said.

At 15 hours, the position does not qualify for benefits any more.

"Is the work getting done now, with 20 hours?" Holly Haase asked Greeno.

Greeno replied that there had been no approvals by default during his 10-year tenure on the board. "But it's a risk," he said.

Greeno said Town Meeting must now decide if it's a risk worth taking. "It's in the people's hands," he said.

The people said no, 57 to 42.