SHIRLEY -- Seventy-two people turned out for the recent Special Town Meeting and with just one article on the warrant, it lasted only about an hour, as Moderator George Knittel predicted.
The single article asked to amend the fiscal 2014 budget appropriation for the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District assessment to $5,331,343, just $31,000 more than last year.
A week before, Superintendent Carl Mock told the selectmen that a proposed $350,000 increase over last year's assessment would probably not be enough, even though the School Committee didn't object at the time it was approved.
The figure the School Committee came up with was $206,000 when the warrant was printed, but it was whittled down to $31,000 when it was presented.
"That's OK," Knittel said. It can be lower or up to 10 percent higher, and this is substantially less." Even the new number could be amended up or down.
"That's legal, too," he said.
Mock explained how and why the amount of the proposed increase went down.
First, the committee was concerned about the state-set Required Local Contribution and its affect on the assessment, which was still an unknown at Annual Town Meeting.
For the last eight years or so, there's been an ongoing effort by the state to align RLC's with target goals for each school district, Mock continued. Also, an "accelerator" worked into the formula upped the increase even more for towns that had not kept up, such as Shirley, which faced a $90,000 "penalty" as a result.
This was in addition to the RLC increase itself, he said. "We knew there would be a significant impact" if the governor's proposed budget held.
"Until recently, those were the numbers we had to work with," Mock said. But when the governor's budget didn't gain traction in the legislature, it became pretty clear that the assessment figures would change, since Ayer's was too low and Shirley's too high.
Among other factors he talked about, "timeliness" was also at issue, he said. The House and Senate had not released RLC numbers when Town Meeting rolled around. So the School Committee asked Ayer to reject its assessment and did not object when Shirley voted in a lower number than they were asking for at the time.
The revenue source for the $31,000 increase was the stabilization fund, which some -- including Selectmen Chairman Kendra Dumont and former selectman Enrico Cappucci -- said they were leery about using. They cited the effect on the town's bond rating when the nest egg gets too low and the diminished amount that would be available in an emergency, which is what the fund is for.
The motion passed by the required two-thirds margin; 67 voters said yes, 5 said no.