PEPPERELL -- Department heads got to have their voices heard by the Finance Committee on Thursday, and the message was largely the same from nearly all of them: Cuts to budgets would result in a loss of services.
Finance Committee Chairwoman Melissa Tzanoudakis asked the gathered town employees to describe how their departments would be affected if they were either level-funded or if their budgets were cut.
The question of budget cuts was not the original intent of the meeting. The Finance Committee had originally asked the departments to come up with drafted budgets at level-funding and one percent. The numbers were based on projections that the town would be seeing a 1.5 percent increase in their budget.
However, last Thursday, the state announced through cherry sheets and Gov. Deval Patrick's budget proposals that towns would be required to meet their target shares for minimum contribution for regional school districts. This created an unanticipated spike in the North Middlesex Regional School budget of approximately $472,000.
The minimum contribution is calculated by a formula based on several factors, mostly income and property valuation. The increase is due to changes within the three district towns. While Townsend and Ashby are seeing a drop in their minimum contributions, Pepperell saw an increase in income and their property valuations did not drop as much as in the other towns.
The town is also seeing an increase of about $10,000 in what they had originally projected for Nashoba Valley Technical High School's budget.
Because of the increases in the original projections, as well as an increase in retirement, the finance team reevaluated the fiscal 2014 projections. At a level-funded town budget of $7,541,000, the finance team projected that the town would see a deficit of $113,834. The projections are still preliminary and could change.
With that in mind, Tzanoudakis said, the Finance Committee's goal is to "balance the needs of the town as best as we can with what we have available and make sure needs of the people we have in town are met."
Several department heads expressed concern that with step increases, a level-funded budget would result in a negative impact on their bottom lines. Others said that with the cuts that had been made over previous years, the only places left to cut were from staff hours.
Police Chief David Scott said that not only has the department been down by two officers since 2009, but they have been underfunded for gasoline. The budget last year was $42,000; the department spent $56,000.
To make cuts would affect programs in the school such as D.A.R.E. as well as administrative hours.
Senior Center Director Marcia Zaniboni said she and her staff were currently evaluating ways to operate more efficiently, but they wouldn't be able to if cuts were made to the staff.
"We can't do it in a year. We need to have transitional period of at least a year to do that," she said.
Fire Chief Toby Tyler said there was no other place to cut other than personnel, and with a grant the department recently received, which stipulated that it maintain its current staffing, that wouldn't be an option.
"If we did have (to make personnel) cuts, we would lose our grant," he said.
North Middlesex Superintendent Joan Landers and Nashoba Tech Superintendent Judith Klimkiewicz were also both in attendance.
Landers addressesd the group, saying she was honored to be there and she and the School Committee were still closely examining the school's budget.
"We're all very concerned about this increase to the town. We continue to look at ways to make this palatable for everyone, for all residents of town and for our children," she said.
Tzanoudakis said the Finance Committee would do everything they could to balance the needs of the departments as much as they could. She reminded the group that the numbers are projections, and could change pending additional information.
"We don't know what could happen in a few weeks from now. Things could change. None of us has a crystal ball, we don't have the ability to predict the future, but we have to work with what we have at our our disposal today," she said.