PEPPERELL -- The Charter Commission received only minor comments at its public hearing last Wednesday night, paving the way for the charter document to be presented to selectmen with only small changes.
The charter's major components, including its expansion of the role of town administrator, were not questioned. The charter gives the town administrator the power to appoint department heads, as well as the authority to review and compile each department's budget before submitting an overall budget to the Finance Committee and Board of Selectmen.
Joe Sergi, chairman of the Charter Commission, said giving the town administrator control over the budget process will make for a more efficient budget.
"Consolidating the department heads under the town administrator will allow for a consistent, strategic approach to municipal challenges," Sergi said.
Member Christopher DeSimone said the savings resulting from the more efficient budget system would be "almost spectacular."
Town Administrator John Moak said the town administrator's authority would be administrative only and would not affect policy-making.
Other major components of the charter include the Fire Department being run by a fire chief rather than a Board of Fire Engineers, and the positions of tax collector/treasurer, town clerk and tree warden being appointed rather than elected.
Moak suggested a small substantive change to lower the qualifications for hiring future town administrators, saying the guidelines are so stringent that it may be tough to fill the job.
The charter calls for town-administrator candidates to have a minimum of five years' experience as a town administrator. Moak recommended revising that to three to five years, and suggested rewording it to include experience in any municipal management position, rather than just experience as a town administrator.
Sergi said the commission would consider that change at its next meeting Sept. 25.
Planning Board member Joseph Helfter asked if any of the changes, such as the transition toward having a fire chief, would result in higher costs to the town.
Although some budget increases could be necessary, they would have to be approved at Town Meeting, answered Sergi.
"Folks will have the opportunity in a public forum to control any costs generated by this change," he said.
Beyond that, members merely clarified questions from the small crowd, and explained the next steps in the process.
Last month, the commission submitted a final draft to the Attorney General's office and the Department of Housing and Community Development. They have received comments from the DHCD and are expecting comments from the attorney general later this week.
Sergi said the comments will be discussed at the Sept. 25 meeting, and some changes may be made.
The document will then be submitted to selectmen on Oct. 24, and voted on as a ballot question in April's town election.
If passed, the charter would be reviewed in five years, and then every 10 years after that.
"This is a living document. It's not meant to be static," Sergi said.
Members said changes to the charter can still be made until it is submitted to selectmen. The commission will hold a meeting shortly before submitting to selectmen to allow for any residents to suggest last-minute changes.
"Even if we don't agree with the changes, we should always afford the opportunity for dialogue or discussion," Sergi said.