GROTON -- As the holiday season approaches, officials have begun looking ahead to formulating a new municipal budget, a process that town manager Mark Haddad said will begin on Nov. 8 when he meets with department heads and hands them his guidelines for fiscal 2014.
"I think we're in very good shape," Haddad told selectmen at their meeting Monday night.
The town manager said that his goal for fiscal14 was the same as that for this year's budget, to keep spending within the town's levy limit.
Following the Nov. 8 meeting with department heads, Haddad said that individual budgets would need to be submitted to his office by Dec. 3.
Over the next month, the town manager said he will work to reconcile the departmental budgets and fit them together in accordance with his overall plan for the town's finances and have a draft operating budget ready for submission to selectmen on Dec. 31 as mandated by the town's Charter.
Crucial to the formulation process will be the town's relationship with the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District which is currently under the leadership of interim superintendent Anthony Bent.
Bent will have a tough act to follow in the performance of his predecessor, Joseph Mastrocola, who earned the respect of residents as well as town officials by reining in spending at the district while preserving programs.
However, last night Haddad reported already having had "good discussions" with school officials about the fiscal 2014 budget.
In 2013, the town's budget came to $30,177,585 a figure representing a 3.7 percent increase in spending over 2012.
School expenses alone came to $449,967 for Nashoba Valley Tech and $16,413,491 for the town's share of Groton-Dunstable Regional School District costs.
Also at their Nov. 5 meeting, selectmen learned that town owned land could be transferred to the control of the Parks Department and dedicated as playing fields, but certain conditions had to be met first.
The conditions, as conveyed to the board by Haddad, were outlined by the town's legal counsel who said that selectmen must make sure that the land in question did not have any prior encumbrances.
Once the land's status was ascertained, the question of transfer would have to be submitted to residents for a vote at town meeting.
The issue came before the board when Parks Department vice-chairman John Strauss asked for a transfer of jurisdiction so that new playing fields could be created on the 35 acre parcel, land that is not currently being used.
Located next to the town's transfer station, the property would be used to create more space for the town's growing number of organized sports leagues including parking.
The town's legal counsel also found that the Board of Selectmen was authorized to establish and appoint a Town Meeting Review Committee.
The question arose at an earlier meeting when concerns were expressed regarding who had the authority to create the committee: the Town Moderator or the BOS.
But with the opinion of counsel, selectmen were able to move forward with the idea instructing Haddad to draft a charge for the committee for submission and review by the board at a future meeting.
Among the items the Review Committee might consider would be the viability of the institution of town meeting, its legal framework, cost to the taxpayer, and the times meetings are held.
Findings and recommendations of the committee would then be submitted to the board for consideration and further action.
As of the Nov. 5 meeting, Haddad reported that four residents had expressed interest in joining the new committee.
Selectmen however, felt that membership of the committee should consist of a full complement of seven and requested anyone else interested in taking part should contact their office.
Finally, chairman Stuart Schulman announced that the board was not ready to proceed with a discussion of renewing Haddad's employment agreement with the town but should be by the group's next meeting scheduled for Nov. 19.
"We're not quite there yet but we're very close," said Schulman.