PEPPERELL -- Walking or driving along Main Street every day, you get used to them. They become part of the landscape like the telephone poles they are attached to or the cable and electrical wires strung overhead.
That may have been the reason why Countryside Road resident Richard Layne only noticed them when he did, a few weeks after the Memorial Day weekend.
"Some were hanging upside down, some hanging by one eye hook," said Layne of the American flags that the town had hung on telephone poles along Main and Tarbell streets. "Others were torn and faded, or draped straight down, or simply gone. "I can understand something going wrong with one or two of them, but not when it gets up to nine or 10.
"It's disgraceful," Layne said. "How can you disrespect the flag when you know about all the soldiers who fell for it?"
When asked about the flags and who was responsible for maintaining them, town administrator John Moak agreed with Layne but was not aware that they were in as bad a shape as he described.
"Mead Landscaping had volunteered to put them up and we have taken down a couple that we've seen weren't in good condition," said Moak. "As of late last week, I thought most of the ones that have been compromised had been taken care of. We did not ask Mead to do that. But a lot of the flags were not in great shape."
Moak said that the town had possessed 110 flags originally with 80 in good enough shape to put up.
"We should be replacing 30 to 50 a year but we don't have the money to do that," lamented Moak. "The Fourth of July Committee has been doing that for the last few years but they can't do it any longer. They don't have enough people."
In fact, with the very successful Independence Day weekend having just passed, the Fourth of July Committee may be facing its own impending demise.
Committee president Carol Gates has stated that with current members prepared to resign and no volunteers stepping forward to replace them, there may very well be no Fourth of July Committee to sponsor fireworks in 2015 let alone maintain the flags along Main Street.
"The Fourth of July Committee asked the town to take over maintenance of the flags but there have been no funds to do that this year," said Moak. "The selectmen did put some in a supplemental budget but that didn't pass. So there's no money right now to take care of the flags."
Although the long-term future of the flags is in doubt, the town administrator hopes that for the shortterm, Mead Landscaping will continue to be available, at least for the remainder of the year.
"We will be asking Meade to volunteer to take the flags down for us now that the Fourth of July is past and then to put them back up in the fall," said Moak. "Hopefully by then we'll get a program in place to replace those flags that are not in good shape, but to be honest, I'm not sure how we're going to do that."
Moak said that putting up flags around town was one of those "really nice projects" that everyone would like to see get done but in difficult financial times ends up falling in that category of things that don't seem to have the immediacy of ambulance service or fire protection.
As for the long-term, Moak is at a loss about what the town can do. Reluctant to continue to rely on a local contractor to do the work gratis and cognizant of the condition of the public purse, the town administrator could not say for certain what town leaders will do.
"For years, Charter Communication used to put up the flags for us but the company eventually decided not to do it any more," said Moak of another avenue that had been closed off.
"Right now, there's just no program in place to take the flags down or to maintain them," said Moak. "But the flags are not alone in that. The same thing applies to our buildings. There's no funds. The tradition of putting up the flags was started when there were more funds available."
Moak said it is overly complicated for the Board of Selectmen or the town in general to enter upon fundraising activities to cover the cost of the flags. Together with handling gifts and donations with their accompanying legal and public relations entanglements, it is a difficult process to manage.
"We have to look at alternative ways to do it so what we put up will look as close to pristine as possible," said Moak.
"The flag issue is one that the Board of Selectmen is aware of and we will be taking them down soon," said Moak. "After that, we have to find some creative way to have them in better shape for use in the fall."
If anyone has any ideas about how the situation can be handled, they should either contact Moak or the Town Clerk's Office.