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New spending requests throw FY07 budget into $1.9m deficit

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GROTON — Although the Finance Committee was given a free hand by the selectmen in how to treat individual town budgets, department heads have been made to understand that money will be tight in 2007, so they should adjust their spending proposals accordingly.

As a result, many departments and committees presented level-funded or zero growth budgets when they met with the committee.

That, however, did not stop requests for new spending that town accountant Valerie Jenkins said have so far thrown the FY07 operating budget into a $1.9 million deficit.

In addition, Jenkins reported that there were also a total of $600,000 in proposed capital spending items.

Both figures did not mean they would be fully funded, only that if all the requests for increases were approved, that is how much they would cost.

Tuesday’s round of reviews began with the Water Department, Assessors Office, Council on Aging (COA) and Conservation Commission (ConsCom) among the departments making an appearance.

First up was the Board of Health (BOH). Chairman Robert Hanninen said the board’s budget for 2007 would rise from $80,671 to $81,359 with most of the increase is due to the rising cost of nursing services and services provided by the Nashoba BOHs.

Hanninen characterized the BOH budget as basically flat.

He also presented the proposed budget for the Solid Waste Department which rose from $134,000 to $147,000 due to increased wages and the need for trash bags. Included in the budget was $6,600 for the department’s assessment of its membership in a regional cooperative that had been useful in negotiating a favorable rate for the town’s trash collection.

One big ticket item for the transfer station is expected to be a capital spending request of $57,000 to purchase a new bailer. If approved, the new machine could help the town earn as much as $15,000 each year, effectively paying for itself in four years.

Next, it was the turn of the assessors who made the case for an increase in their budget from $162,753 to roughly $179,985 for FY07.

Much of the increase included the cost of adding 16 extra hours to the payroll in order to have three full-time employees on the job.

The additional hours were needed to allow staff members more time on site visits and to free up time for assistant assessor Rena Swezey to work on actual assessment figures in the office, said board member Hugh McLaughlin.

If approved, the extra hours would enable the assessors’ office to complete a transition to allow all functions of the office to be performed in-house instead of being contracted out, costing the town money.

The extra hours would add $16,000 to the assessors’ annual budget.

“We’re really at a juncture,” said McLaughlin. “We need the help.”

Retained in the budget was $25,000 to pay for contracted services by an outside company. Although employees have been trained to do the work themselves, McLaughlin said it would be safer to have money on hand in case things did not pan out.

“We’re very reluctant to walk the tightrope without a net,” he said.

COA Director Martha Campbell also asked for increased hours for the Senior Center’s outreach coordinator. With the number of programs being run and a growing number of seniors seeking services, there is a desperate need for more work time, she said.

The center’s outreach coordinator currently works 37 hours each week with 7 hours covered by a state grant. With the grant money about to run out, Campbell asked the FinCom to support a request that the town take over coverage of the coordinator’s hours and increase the position to 40 hours per week.

If approved in its entirety, the 2007 budget for the COA would come to $11,478, a modest increase from its current amount of $11,390.

The Conservation Commission anticipates an increase in its budget from $62,968 to $68,968, due mostly to increases in legal and engineering fees.

Water Superintendent Thomas Orcutt said the operating budget for the Water Department would grow from $1.2 million to $1.4 million for FY07 due to increases in the price of oil, gas, electricity, chemicals and legal fees.

Orcutt said he expected to see a rise in water rates in the spring, and requested funding in 2007 for a new technician position at a cost of $50,000 per year.

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