GROTON -- Giving the warrant for the upcoming spring Town Meeting a review, members of the Board of Selectmen were asked to make a last-minute inclusion that could mean important new revenue for the town.
The matter was raised by Town Manager Mark Haddad following the board's review of the draft warrant and involved a 120 Boston Road property owned by Peter Myette that is slated for development into a medical office building.
The problem, said Haddad, was that the property is caught in a zoning quandary involving its current status as a business zoned parcel and a 1963 residential/agricultural zoning district, part of which still encompasses the property.
If the latter situation is not cleared up, concluded Haddad, the building to be renovated, coming to over 10,000 square feet, would need to have its concept plan go for a vote at Town Meeting in order to be approved and avoid having to apply for a change in zoning.
Meanwhile, time was running short, with the developer telling the board at its meeting of March 11 that the medical office client interested in the property is on a short timetable with actual work in preparing the property needing to start by August if the deal were to be consummated.
The developer told selectmen that the company interested in the property could not yet be disclosed but its requirement for the existing building would be 16,000 square feet, part of which would be made up by adding a second story the existing building, enabling more area on the property to be devoted to parking.
"Time is of the essence," noted Haddad of a project that could mean added tax revenue in a town where new commercial development has been slight.
Appreciating the need for swift action, selectmen voted to add an article to the warrant so that approval of the project, if a vote ends up being necessary, could come swiftly allowing the developer to submit a site plan for review by all of the town's land-use boards at once.
Also on the warrant will be articles covering the town's fiscal 2014 operating budget, a capital budget covering such purchases such as $40,000 worth of "rescue tools" for the Fire Department; $175,000 for a new salt and sand shed for the DPW; $40,000 for information technology infrastructure upgrades; $40,000 for a new pickup truck for the custodial staff; $78,000 for two police cruisers; and $10,200 for a rough mower, $20,000 for golf carts, and $6,500 for a boom sprayer unit all for the Pool and Golf Center.
The warrant will also include measures seeking funds to pay for an assessing vendor for the Board of Assessors; $300,000 to establish under state law a septic system loan program to help finance local septic upgrades; dispersal of Community Preservation Committee funds; $500,000 as the town's share of the cost of preparing a 35-acre town-owned parcel adjacent to the transfer station for use as new playing fields by the Parks Commission; to amend zoning regulations dealing with agricultural labor housing and commercial dog kennels; discontinuance of a portion of Fitch's Bridge Road; and acceptance of Pawtucket Path and Prescott Street.
Also at their meeting of March 11, selectmen:
* Heard from state Sen. Eileen Donaghue and state Rep. Sheila Harrington, who filled board members in on Gov. Deval Patrick's plan for increasing the income tax, part of his proposed $34.8 billion state budget for fiscal 2014. According to Harrington, if implemented, the plan would cost Groton residents earning $118,000 a year $962 in added income tax and those earning in the $60,000 range $381. When asked if any of the new funds raised would be used to bail out the failing MBTA network, Donaghue said that it would in part. "This is the opening gambit," she told selectmen of the governor's proposal, which both women said was unlikely to pass in the form presented by Patrick. Donaghue, a newly appointed member of the Ways and Means Committee, said under the governor's plan, the state income tax would rise by 7 percent over this year. "That is ridiculous," said board Chairman Stuart Schulman in reaction. After doing the math, board member Joshua Degen noted that if the new tax was implemented, Groton residents could end up paying over $2 million but receive only $35,000 in local aid in return. Luckily, however, Donaghue said an earlier proposal by the governor to raise the gas tax had since been taken off the table. Selectmen finished the briefing by asking for Donaghue and Harrington's support for efforts to establish solar power-generating facilities in town.
* Decided to hold off until September any decision regarding how to pay volunteers in the town's Senior Work Off Program that allows qualifying seniors to work a few hours a week at Town Hall in exchange for a break on their property taxes. Unfortunately, said town accountant Patricia Dufresne, who brought the issue before the board a couple weeks ago, the Internal Revenue Service mandated that all such workers be charged income tax on their earnings. As a result, the seniors currently enrolled in the program will need to be handled as wage-earning employees instead of volunteers, with all the red tape and paperwork that goes with it. In a subsequent meeting with the volunteers, Dufresne reported that 20 were still interested in participating in the program and it was suggested that it be limited to 30 volunteers working at $750 each. It was then that selectmen decided to wait until Dufresne could meet with the seniors to discuss payment issues before a final decision was made.
* Ratified the appointment of Michael Hartnett as the town's new treasurer/collector to begin May 13. "I really take a lot of pride in this appointment," said Haddad of Hartnett, who had worked in a similar capacity in Pepperell for the last 13 years.
* Voted to appoint Jay Prager to the Bylaw Review Committee; Bill Farnsworth as temporary building commissioner (needed, said Haddad, for his experience in commercial property); and Paula Martin, Fran Stanley, Dawn Dunbar and Margot Hammer as election workers.
* Learned of the need for someone to serve as an alternate member of the town's delegation to the Nashoba Valley Regional Technical School due to current representative Kevin McCarthy being ill. There was also an opening on the town's Housing Trust to fill out an unexpired term.