GROTON -- Town officials agreed to dig deeper to find places in the municipal budget where spending could be cut to help the schools meet a $2.7 million shortfall in their own spending for fiscal 2015.
The agreement came at a meeting of the Finance Committee Tuesday with Town Manager Mark Haddad and selectmen.
Haddad summarized his plan to meet the crisis that he presented to selectmen at its meeting Monday.
He referenced taking back votes by Town Meeting that appropriated $103,000 to pay for a study for a new fire-protection system at Lost Lake, of which half is still unused and $73,000 to pay for a mosquito-control program, as well as $76,000 appropriated to reopen Sargisson Beach for public use.
Haddad said he was opposed to cutting more than $185,000 out of the town's operating budget and recommended seeking the rest from unexpended sources such as the tax levy and possibly a debt exclusion, which he said could be held for a vote in a special election before spring Town Meeting.
"I'd hate to see us decimate the operating budget because I think we've done a good job on it," said Haddad, and thought pursuing an override to make up the shortfall would lack public support.
Haddad threw out more possible savings in the town's budget, including cutting a human-resources-director position, cutting library services and new personnel, eliminating the ZBA assistant, and making reductions in the Information Technology line item.
Finance Committee Chairman Jay Prager offered the Groton Pool & Golf Center (Country Club) as a good place to begin cutting as it cost the town more than it earned.
"It's never been anything but a money pit," said Prager, citing the fact that the center cost the town $70,000 a year to keep solvent.
"I think there's ways to find money in this budget," continued Prager. "We've got to make some hard choices here."
Prager said spending at the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District's proposed budget for fiscal 2015 had increased by 4 percent despite declining enrollment and that it was mostly payroll items such as salaries, wages and benefits that make up 90 percent of its expenditures.
"We can't continue on this path," said Prager. "We'll be in this crisis every year from now on. We as a committee have to figure something out."
"We need to start from the very beginning," said Finance Committee member Steven Webber.
"We need to find a process that we can get through in a month," said Prager, suggesting that as a start, members submit their suggestions into a master list of possible cuts and for members and Haddad to go through it.
Agreeing, Haddad planned to meet with the committee Feb. 22 to discuss and possibly decide on the cuts.
The source of the problem was discovered late last year, when the approved school-operating budget for fiscal 2013 was $35,200,000, while total obligations by the district came to $36,204,212, a difference of $1,004,000.
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.
For that year, said Haddad, Groton would be assessed $1.9 million over its assessment in fiscal 2014.
The district's proposed budget for fiscal 2015 is $36,436,892.