GROTON -- With the Center Fire Station issue settled and no other pressing matters expected, local officials are anticipating somewhat of a laid back Town Meeting this spring as opposed to others in recent years when hot button measures drew much attention from residents.
The chief feature on a first draft of the spring Town Meeting warrant therefore will likely be the town's budget itself which town manager Mark Haddad has pegged at $29,105,500.
Excluding the School Department, which takes up 54 percent of the town's total budget, municipal spending will come to $12,455,750 in 2014; an increase over 2013 of 7.83 percent.
But so confident has the town manager felt about the outlook for fiscal 2014, that he has proposed the hiring of some new employees including a full time dispatcher for the Police and Fire Departments, and one more technician in support of the town's IT (information technology) services.
The budget would also include a 2 percent salary increase for all of the town's public unions which will be entering the second of their three year agreements. With the same deal to be offered to non-union employees, the impact on the budget will come to $112,845.
In addition, a new employee incentive program is expected to cost an extra $44,759.
As for the school budgets, that of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District will come to $35,200,000 while that of the Nashoba Valley Regional Technical School is estimated to be $11,722,242.
A late inclusion on the warrant will likely be a measure sponsored by the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District seeking the appropriation of an extra $562,055 needed to upgrade the district's computer technology infrastructure.
Aside from the town's own operating budget, the warrant will also include some capital spending requests including a number for the Pool and Golf Center: $10,200 to cover the third of five payments on a new roughage lawn mower; $20,000 to cover the second payment on a new fleet of golf carts; and $6,500 to cover the first of five payments to replace a boom sprayer unit needed for the use of fertilizers and pesticides on the property.
Also on the list of capital items is the purchase of two new replacement cruisers for the Police Department at a cost of $78,000 bringing its fleet to six marked vehicles.
Other spending items include $40,000 for the purchase of various "rescue tools" that the Fire Department needs as replacements; $175,000 to replace the current salt and sand shed at the DPW which is described as being beyond repair; $40,000 for the purchase of 23 new computers for the Town Hall, library, and Public Safety Building, a laptop for the Fire Department, and other equipment; and $40,000 to pay for a new pick-up truck needed for various maintenance duties around town.
A separate article will ask residents to approve the appropriation of unspecified funds to hire a private vendor to conduct a review for assessment purposes of the town's commercial and industrial property as required by state law.
Another article will seek voter approval to raise $300,000 through appropriation or borrowing with the Massachusetts Water Pollution Abatement Trust for use in mitigating the impact of failing septic systems. Some of the money could be used as low cost loans to qualifying homeowners who might not otherwise be able to afford needed upgrades.
Other public funds will be sought from money accrued under the provisions of the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) including $16,270 by the Housing Authority to help replace a failed back-up generator for the septic system at its Petapawag Place housing complex and $487,113 for the 2014 debt service on the town's purchase of the Surrenden Farms land along Farmers Row.
Residents will also be asked to consider allowing CPC funds in the amount of $350,000 to be used to supplement other funding sources being raised by the Parks Commission for the development of a 35 acre parcel of town owned land adjacent to the transfer station for use as playing fields. When finished, the new area is expected to cover 11 acres and include three new playing fields and parking for 100 vehicles. The remainder of the $900,000 total cost of the project will be covered by a $50,000 contribution from local sports groups and $500,000 to be borrowed by the town.
Other articles to be considered by residents include:
-- Approval of property tax exemptions for veterans as well as blind and elderly homeowners.
-- Approval of maps updating water resources protection districts around the Unkety Brook well site.
-- Approval of an update of zoning maps to include the land off Farmers Row where the new Center Fire Station is to be constructed declaring it for "public use" and so exempt from certain restrictions inherent in residential/agricultural zones.
-- Approval of changes in the town's zoning bylaws dealing with housing for agriculture, agricultural workers and commercial dog kennels. The new language includes definitions of the two terms and in which zoning districts they would be allowed. The changes are being sponsored by the Planning Board and the Agricultural Commission.
-- Acceptance of Paquawket Path and Off Prescott Street as public ways.
Spring Town Meeting is scheduled for April 22.