GROTON -- The first session of spring Town Meeting considered and voted upon a number of spending items April 22, including a town operating budget, spending for a new group of playing fields, and a special request by the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District for $562,055 for new technology.
First up was the fiscal 2014 town budget, which residents approved with little comment at $30,994,975, a 2.68 percent increase over 2013.
As passed, the budget would cost each taxpayer on average about $6,908.
The town budget also included the cost of schooling, with $468,592 as Groton's share of the cost for the Nashoba Valley Regional Technical School and $15,118,999 for Groton-Dunstable, which comes to a 2.67 percent increase in spending over 2013.
Together, education took up over 54 percent of the town's total budget.
But the 241 residents who attended the first session of Town Meeting were in a generous mood when it came to education, as a majority of them also voted to approve $325,000 to help pay for a special request by Groton-Dunstable to help jump start its computer-related infrastructure.
To sweeten the deal, it was learned at Town Meeting that the Groton Electric Light Commission had voted to contribute an extra $100,000 to the effort.
Speaking in favor of the appropriation, School Committee Chairwoman Allison Manugian told voters that "the district was falling behind" and that currently it had only the "bare bones" of equipment needed for up-to-date instruction.
In reply to questions, Manugian admitted that the district had been spending $300,000 annually on technology but that it was not enough and assured voters that none of the newly appropriated funds would be used until a new information technology director, who would be better able to judge how best to spend the money, was hired.
The only fly in the ointment was uncertainty among the public about just how the money would be spent.
"This is an awful lot of money," worried resident Gary Roy, anxious that the district did not seem to have an overall strategy on how to spend the money to best advantage. "This is pretty nebulous."
How could the schools have spent $300,000 every year and still "not know from nothing?"
Fellow resident Robert Hersh worried that the district might be more eager to get a hold of more "toys" at the expense of improving its curriculum, noting that current students covered less than a third of the ground covered by his daughter when she attended the local high school.
"Technology is great if used properly," said Hersh. "So long as it didn't take away from instructional time."
Another resident, however, seemed to sum up the majority's feelings when he spoke in favor of the spending.
"To be in this game, you have to spend money," he said. "We need to make this investment for students for today, tomorrow and the future."
Residents also went on to approve a list of capital spending items, including $40,000 to buy rescue tools for the Fire/EMS Department; $175,000 to replace a salt and sand shed for the Highway Department; $40,000 to upgrade the town's information technology infrastructure; $40,000 for a new pickup truck for the town; and $78,000 for two new cruisers for the Police Department.
The only capital items called into question were those for the Pool & Golf Center, which requested $10,200 for the first installment in the purchase of a rough mower, $20,000 toward the purchase of new golf carts and $6,500 for boom sprayer unit.
The issue became temporarily hung up on the question of the center's profitability, which was inadvertently brought up when Board of Selectmen member Joshua Degen described the club as having "broken even" in its operation.
That contention was challenged by some residents who thought not including continued town spending on such items as mowers and golf carts made the center look better than it deserved.
That notion was supported by Finance Committee Chairman Jay Prager, who refused to consider the capital requests as anything but part of the club's normal operating expenses. Prager called for the center to be truly self supporting.
In its defense, manager Robert Whalen reminded everyone that when he first took over running the club a few years before, the place was falling apart and that there was no way enough revenue could be generated to pay for anything more than day-to-day operations. A new effort had begun to attract more members, but until that bore fruit, the town would need to continue to help in the way of paying for capital items.
In the end, residents accepted the explanations and approved the appropriations.
Voters also approved a pair of Community Preservation Committee appropriations, including $15,847 to buy a new generator for the Housing Authority to replace a backup generator at its Petapawag Place sewer pump station and $309,000 for the Parks Department to be used toward the development of what it calls Ledge Rock Field.
Located adjacent to the transfer station, Ledge Rock Field would create three new playing fields and parking for 100 cars on 35 acres adjacent to the town's transfer station.
Costing an estimated $900,000, the CPC appropriation would come in addition to $50,000 pledged by various sports groups in town and $541,000 from the town. That last figure, however, will be conditioned upon the project receiving a $400,000 grant from the state.
With spending articles taken care of, the second session of Town Meeting is expected to cover issues of zoning, a concept plan for a medical office building proposed for Boston Road, and the sale or lease of the disused Squannacook Hall.
The second session of Town Meeting is scheduled for April 23.