GROTON -- With the amount of a shortfall in the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District's budget for fiscal 2015 seemingly growing by the week, town manager Mark Haddad briefed selectmen on a scenario for raising the funds needed by the schools to balance the books.
Meeting with selectmen Monday, Haddad said a deadline for approving a new fiscal 2015 school budget looms on March 12. Groton and Dunstable are under the gun to quickly find a solution for the shortfall or the district will face likely cuts in personnel and services, and even building closures.
According to Haddad, what had been reported as a $2.5 million shortfall expected by the schools for fiscal 2015 has increased to $2.7 million.
As a result, the school district has asked the towns for help with Haddad assuring selectmen and the public that the shortfall has not caused a rift between town and school officials but on the contrary, has only galvanized each to find a solution to the crisis.
Late last year, the approved school operating budget for fiscal 2013 stood at $35,200,000 but a review revealed that total obligations by the district came to $36,204,212, a difference of $1,004,212.
Initial cuts were able to eliminate the shortfall for that year while further efforts including more cuts and new sources of revenue were able to reduce the shortfall for 2014 to $464,485.
But since the initial problem with the budget has a rollover effect in subsequent years, a major problem remains for 2015.
The bottom line, said Haddad, is that in the district's proposed budget for fiscal 2015, Groton would be assessed $1.9 million over the estimated $15 million it paid in 2014.
To find the funding, Haddad approached the board earlier in the month, suggesting taking back a vote by town meeting that appropriated $103,000 to pay for a study for a new fire protection system at Lost Lake and a mosquito control program, as well as $76,000 appropriated to reopen Sargisson Beach for public use.
In addition, at the Feb. 10 meeting, Haddad suggested that the town not fill new positions previously approved and make cuts in library services, and Police and Fire department budgets.
On top of that, the town manager suggested dipping into the town's unexpended tax levy, which totals an estimated $400,000.
"I am not in favor of these cuts," Haddad told selectmen. But if everything he proposed is accepted, the property tax rate in town would rise from $17.38 per $1,000 in valuation to $18.45.
The town manager said that he is opposed to cutting more than $185,000 out of the town's operating budget and recommended seeking the rest from unexpended sources and possibly a debt exclusion which he said could be held for a vote in a special election prior to spring town meeting.
Board chairman Peter Cunningham was in favor of letting the issue "percolate" some before the board makes a decision adding that the question represents a "dynamic process" with "nothing set in stone."
Fellow board member Joshua Degen asked if the town manager could prepare a "contingency budget" should a ballot question fail or Dunstable decide not to raise its share of the money.
Agreeing that the issue needed to be discussed further, Haddad told the board that he planned to meet with the Finance Committee on Feb. 11.
A later meeting for Feb. 18 will also be scheduled to include selectmen, members of the FinCom as well as the School Committee to take the discussion to the next level.