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Board barely backs override; Selectmen voice worries.

Byline: Lynne Klaft

LUNENBURG - In a 3-2 vote, selectmen last night approved a $1.9 million Proposition 2-1/2 override measure that will be presented to town voters at the annual town meeting Tuesday and on the May 19 ballot.

The override is meant to maintain the current level of town and school services.

Selectmen Daniel W. Cronin and Steven M. deBettencourt opposed the override, but for different reasons.

Mr. Cronin said too many part-time employees are benefiting by taking part in the town's health insurance program, stipends should not be paid to selectmen and assessors, and cuts need to be made to streamline town government.

He said he worried that another override - an increase in taxes above the annual 2-1/2 percent allowed - might be sought within the next 10 years.

"This started 11 years ago," said Mr. deBettencourt. "We have this credit card thought process. In 2010 we will be back where we started. Eighty percent of our budget is payroll. We have to change our thought process."

But Robert H. Bowen, the board's chairman, said, "I've sat on the Finance Committee for five years, and saying that all we have to do is cut the budget ... well, I wish someone would tell me where and I will hold the knife. What you are suggesting, Mr. Cronin, only comes to about $60,000 in savings."

Selectman Paula J. Bertram said, "When I ran for election I was against an override, but after attending budget meetings and going through the process I have changed my mind."

But she said she was worried about whether the town could get by without another override attempt in the next decade. "My concerns are with the new-growth projection figures. Does Mr. Keyes stand by those figures?"

Chief Administrative and Financial Officer Daniel M. Keyes replied that two big developments will be starting construction this year - Emerald Place at the old Whalom Amusement Park site and Tri-Town Landing at the Tri-Town Drive-In site - and that he stood by those revenue projections, showing a net gain for town coffers.

"One specific union is being targeted (with the part-time employee issue)," said Ms. Bertram. "They are significantly underpaid. After I worked for more than 20 years for this community, I was paid less than $15 per hour. Most are members of this community and do an incredible job. Some of them work 32 hours, not 20 hours. Making two people into one job is a very simplified solution. These are very specialized positions and are not interchangeable like Legos."

Selectman Thomas A. Alonzo said, "My responsibility as an elected official is to present a budget to the people to meet their expectations of public safety, education, capital needs and building maintenance. There is a structural deficit. The purchasing power of the (budget) dollars has decreased. We have cut around the edges and are now very close to the core. We need to repair the structure."

The Finance Committee voted to support the $1.9 million override. Chairman David J. Matthews told the board, "We don't know if this will get us through the next 10 years. We have cut, consolidated, picked things clean. We have been through the process. We will make this work by being efficient with the money that is voted on (at town meeting), but this override is for current needs.

"We know we are asking for a lot, but this is not asked lightly. Much research has been done. It will only get worse (if the override is not passed). This is what we need today," he said, adding that financial restraints and efficiency over all town departments would be insisted upon by the Finance Committee.

In other business, selectmen learned that an additional $300,000 in grant money would be available for the Meadow Woods Mobile Home Park water and sewer project, lowering the amount of money that the town would have to borrow.

The town's lawyers have also been contacted by the state attorney general's office regarding potential additional funding from the state. The state is recognizing that the Lunenburg problem is not unique and that mobile home parks across the state are experiencing similar problems failing to meet new health codes for water and sewer service.

The board anticipates meeting with state officials soon to discuss special legislation that could help the town.

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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 25, 2007
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