GROTON — At a meeting of the Joint Budget and Finance Task Force, town officials learned that if a preliminary operating budget for the Groton Dunstable Regional School District were accepted as is, increases in the amount both Groton and Dunstable would have to pay could require an override measure to make it work.
The news was given to task force members including Board of Selectmen (BOS) Chairman George (Fran) Dillon; Finance Committee (FinCom) Chairman Steven Webber; and Chairman Chuck McKinney, Paul Fitzgerald and Cindy Barrett of the School Committee, by the schools’ business manager Craig Young.
Also present were Dunstable Board of Selectmen Chairman Ted Gaudette and Finance Committee member Dan St. Jean.
But with warnings by both Groton and Dunstable officials that they did not expect much of an increase in revenue for their towns, meeting such an increase in assessments would be difficult, if not impossible.
St. Jean told the task force that there had been very little new construction in Dunstable over the past year making for relatively flat revenue projections.
“We’re going to take a hit there,” said St. Jean.
Although Groton has experienced more growth over the last year, especially in retail construction, officials there also predicted little room to maneuver.
“We are $480,000 in the red,” said Webber of spending requests for FY2007 by the town’s various boards and departments. “So Groton is in pretty much dire straits right now.”
“It all comes down to how much can someone pay,” concluded Gaudette.
Anticipating the reaction, Young handed out a worksheet that showed how assessments would look for each town if they were set at varying percentages including the lowest at 3 percent, a figure Dunstable had asked about.
At 3 percent, the assessment for Groton would come to $12,384,740 and for Dunstable $3,615,260.
Young, however, did have some good news.
With the release of the governor’s proposed operating budget for the state, Young said that Groton was in line to receive $10,452,458 in local aid.
“These numbers are good planning numbers,” said Young. “But they’re not the final word.”
Young said that before a final school budget for 2007 could be prepared, officials had to wait on the release of the state legislature’s budget that would only be due some time in March or April.
In the meantime, trying to keep new spending by the district down, the administration tried to chip away at expenses, finding $251,000 in cuts, leaving a total preliminary budget for FY2007 of $34,194,477, a decrease from a previous figure of $34,445,984.
“The administration worked hard on this,” said Young. “This is where we are now but it’s still a work in progress. It’s still a very fluid situation.”
Driving the increase in the budget are the usual culprits of fixed costs such as utilities, contractual obligations, insurance and especially energy. Affecting the bottom line, too, are a number of new personnel being requested including five teachers for the high school, and two teachers and one special education aid for the middle school.
Also, the district’s student population continues to increase at a modest pace with 62 more pupils expected for 2007 in addition to the current total of 2,975.
With so much new information to digest, town officials were wary of not meeting again until after the budget had been presented to residents at a public hearing. As a result, members agreed to hold another meeting on Feb. 16 before a March 1 public hearing was scheduled to take place.