GROTON -- At the leading edge of the budget-formulation process for fiscal 2016, the Finance Committee was briefed Tuesday by Town Manager Mark Haddad and introduced to the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District's new superintendent.
Explaining her intention to work closely with town officials on school policy and budget formulation, Superintendent Kristan Rodriguez met with the committee.
Rodriguez told members she intended to reach out to the community to learn its priorities regarding education and to find out from them what has been working, and where improvements are needed in how the district conducts its affairs.
Rodriguez asked members what things they thought were working for the school district.
Member Robert Hargraves praised Jared Stanton, the district's new director of business and finance, whom Hargraves credited for finding the fault in the district's books last year that identified a serious shortfall in the schools' financing.
Hargraves urged Rodriguez to have Stanton identify "potential pitfalls" to prevent the same thing from happening again.
Hargraves urged the district to lay the groundwork for future accounting responsibility against the day of Stanton's departure.
Finance Committee Chairman Gary Green said there have been a number of positive changes to the way the district has done things over the past months but reminded Rodriguez that the district has also suffered from a lack of transparency and communication with the public over the years, something that needed continued attention.
"But there's been good progress moving toward that," said Green.
Member Bud Robertson recommended the district keep an eye on spending to make sure its finances do not jump the tracks again.
Also, the district should implement a multi-year projection outlining future spending, said Green.
The budgetary process for fiscal 2016 begins soon with Haddad required to submit a proposed town budget to selectmen by the end of the year.
Also Tuesday, Haddad reviewed the latest draft of the warrant for fall Town Meeting.
Containing 26 articles, Town Meeting will be asked to consider:
* The acceptance of a local meals tax of .75 percent. The tax would be in addition to a 6.2 percent tax already applied to meals by the state. The additional amount would be collected by food-service providers together with the state's share and submitted to the commonwealth in a single lump sum. From there, the state would redistribute Groton's .75 percent share back to the town. Haddad estimated revenues earned from such a tax would come to about $100,000 in its first year.
* Appropriation of $41,000 for the Police Department to convert electronic files stored on three different systems and to collect them onto a single program. Also for the Police Department, residents will be asked to raise an additional $60,000 for renovations to the Public Safety Building needed after the Fire Department offices were relocated to the new Center Fire Station on Farmers Row. Finally, voters will be asked to consider renaming the Public Safety Building as the Groton Police Station.
* Authorizing selectmen to sell or lease the former Tarbell Elementary School. The reauthorization was made necessary when a previous buyer for the building backed out, forcing selectmen to rescind their Purchase and Sales Agreement. Selectmen intend to issue a new RFP in hopes of attracting another buyer. Also related to the Tarbell building, residents will be asked to rezone the structure from public use to residential-agricultural.
* Authorizing selectmen to lease or sell the former Prescott Elementary School, which businessman Gregg Yanchenko has already expressed interest in. Yanchenko's plan to renovate the building for use as office space was approved by at spring Town Meeting. A second article, if approved by voters, would give Yanchenko a break on potential property taxes for the former school building by graduating them slowly upward over a seven-year period.
* The appropriation of certain sums would allow the town to hire an engineering consultant to assist the Lost Lake Watershed Advisory Committee in determining the existence of contamination, if any, in Lost Lake/Knops Pond.
* Approval for the Conservation Commission to buy an 81.5-acre parcel of open land along Graniteville Road.
* The appropriation of $76,000 from the Community Preservation Fund to complete erosion-control efforts at Sargisson Beach all at once rather than in two phases. To save money and because the project cannot be left off only partially finished, the whole thing needed to be paid for at once and not in two parts as originally planned. The Sargisson Beach Committee had originally been approved for $109,000 covering the first phase of the job with the understanding that the remaining cost of the project totaling $76,000 would be appropriated later.
* Approval of changing the words "dog officer" to "animal-control officer" to conform with state legislation.
* Approval of leasing 43 acres of the town's Cow Pond Brook Road landfill site for use as a solar-array project sponsored by the Groton Electric Light Department.
* Consideration of a petition article seeking the establishment of a Study Committee on Electronic Voting at Town Meeting.