PEPPERELL -- Holding in her hand a stack of budgets from various town departments, Finance Committee Chair Melissa Tzanoudakis kicked off the official budget review process for fiscal year 2014 this week.

"Given the significant difficulties that we're going to face, plus the feedback that I got from everybody about having a little bit more advanced notice when we did the last meeting, I think it might be better to put together a schedule now for the next, say, six weeks, figure out the number of budgets we have, how many we want to do a night, and then try to give the department heads as much notice as possible so they can prepare for us as much as possible for those budgets," said Tzanoudakis.

With 53 departments in Pepperell, the committee agreed to consolidate them into like clusters beginning with Town Hall administration on Feb. 19, followed by Fire, Police, and Communications on Feb. 26, and other departments on March 5, 13, 21 and 27.

"I don't think we're gonna be able to vote any of those until we get closer to Town Meeting because one, we don't have a school budget yet, and two, the state has not finalized state figures yet. So anything that we're doing now is almost exceedingly preliminary except that we don't have any time. We don't have the ability to wait weeks to start," said Tzanoudakis.

"For every dollar that this town brings in how much goes out to people that don't work here anymore - retirement plans, pension plans," asked member Robert Marti.

"We cannot continue to do what we're doing or we will never ever get out of the hole that we've dug ourselves into," he said.

"We don't have any choice on where we go. They come back and they dictate to us what it's gonna be," said Town Accountant Gene Ferrari regarding the retirement system.

"To get a breakdown of how much is for current, how much is for future, how much is for past, is a full actuary study of which PERAC, Public Employment Retirement Administration Commission, is not gonna do," he said.

Member Holly Seiferth noted that nearly all the budgets on the table failed to present level funding solutions and that nearly all presented had one and a half percent budget increases. Notably, the school budget increase of $470,000 weighed heavily on the committee.

"We are now in a position where the school budget is so high that going from year to year even with two-and-a-half, we cannot sustain things where we are," said Tzanoudakis.

"They're sixty-five percent of our budget and they're going up five, six percent every year and we're only allowed to go up two-and-a-half," said Ferrari.

"We're only limited to go up $475,000 the state has not finalized state figures yet. Anything we do now in taxes and the school's taking it all this year," he said.