PEPPERELL -- The Finance Committee did not reach a quorum for its Wednesday night meeting last week.
The committee requires four members to attend for the meeting to officially be convened; only three were present. The committee postponed their agenda items until Dec. 27, including discussing the draft of the letter to be sent to department heads requesting their fiscal 2014 budgets and transferring money from the committee's reserve fund for the Personnel Board and veteran's benefits.
Town Administrator John Moak provided a summary of the town's fiscal 2014 projected general fund. The projected net revenues are listed at $20,312,430. The projected operational expenditures are listed at $20,290,222. The town's estimated operational budget is approximately $7,648,300. The projection represents a 1.5 percent increase over last year's budget. In fiscal 2014, said Moak, the town will also be rid of its structural deficit. The Finance Committee will vote on a draft of a letter to department heads based around these numbers.
Joe Mazzola, the town's veteran's agent, presented a request for $55,000 from the reserve fund to the members present, but a vote must wait until the Finance Committee's next meeting. The original amount appropriated from Town Meeting of $75,000 is not enough to cover the cost of increased enrollment in the benefits program to carry through the remainder of the fiscal year. In June, the town had been paying approximately $9,400 a month towards veteran's benefits. That number has since increased to over $15,000 a month, and more residents continue to enroll. There are currently 16 people enrolled in the program, with another resident being processed.
The increased enrollment is due to a number of factors, said Mazzola. Several veterans are returning from overseas and are currently unemployed. Some personnel over the age of 65 and at 200 percent of the poverty level are now qualified for certain reimbursements. Additionally, said Mazzola, a federal bill for an extension to unemployment benefits has not yet been passed. Several veterans have exhausted their unemployment. If the bill is not passed, they will not longer be eligible to receive unemployment benefits following the end of December.
"If that fails, we will have a lot of people come crashing through the door," said Mazzola.
But, he added, if the bill does pass, it has the potential of bringing enrollment down in the town's assistance program.
"(Unemployed veterans) do make up a significant portion of what we're paying right now," said Moak.
Two of the town's recent enrollments were from veterans who had just lost their unemployment benefits.
"These people have families," said Mazzola.
And Pepperell is not the only local town to see a spike in the enrollments for veteran's assistance; Mazzola, who also serves as a veteran's agent for several other communities, recently asked Townsend and Ashby for additional funds to supplement the benefits. The state reimburses towns 75 percent of the cost of veteran's benefits, but generally the payments are 11 months behind.
If the Finance Committee votes to fund the amount, the $55,000 will carry through April; at the May Town Meeting, a warrant article will request funds from free cash to finish up the fiscal year.
Moak said the request would be a reasonable use of free cash due to the reimbursement. Mazzola hopes that enrollment will decrease as some find employment, but he can't project.
The $500 for the Personnel Board, if the Finance Committee votes to approve it, would be to fund some employee physicals and random drug testing.