By Pierre Comtois


GROTON — The Board of Selectmen had sad news to deliver at their most recent meeting.

The board opened the meeting last Monday night with the news that long-time public servant Sylvia Sangiolo had passed away on Nov. 11.

Sangiolo, 79, served on the town’s Board of Assessors until recently, when she was forced to step down due to ill health.

A two-term member, Sangiolo came to the BOA with 13 years of experience in the same capacity with the town of Carlisle. When she announced her decision not to seek a third term on the board, Sangiolo expressed pride in helping the assessors office to update its operations and increase efficiency.

“Sylvia was a very dynamic person,” said Hugh McLaughlin, a former colleague on the Board of Assessors. “She was a very giving individual who continued to give all of her life. In addition to serving on the Board of Assessors, she was also a community organizer for Lowell’s Laotian residents.”

In a recent interview, Sangiolo had expressed her wish to return to public life in some capacity following recovery from needed surgery. Unfortunately, that ambition was never realized.

“I love this town,” Sangiolo said at the time. “I love everything about it and want to remain very active in it.”

“I’m going to miss her,” said Rena Swezey, who served under Sangiolo as assistant assessor and later as a colleague on the BOA. “She was a very dear friend and colleague.”

In other business before the board, the assessors asked selectmen to support a single tax rate for both residential and commercial property in town.

The town used a single rate for both kinds of property, Swezey said, for the very simple reason that there was too little commercial property for a higher rate to make any difference to the revenue stream. Only 6.3 percent of the town is commercial, she noted.

Although the new tax rate per $1,000 of valuation would increase from $13.87 for fiscal year 2008 to $14.32 for 2009, Swezey reported that for some areas of town — such as the town center, the waterfront and south Groton — assessments would decrease somewhat as well as for many owners of camps, ranch houses and “old style” homes.

The reason for the increase in the tax rate overall, officials said, was to raise enough money to cover the 2.5 percent increase in the tax levy, as allowed by state law, as well as a $2.5 million debt exclusion package for the high school property payment approved by residents at town meeting.

Selectmen voted unanimously to approve the new single tax rate.

* Town manager Mark Haddad reported meeting with department heads and said he handed out a budget preparation package ahead of the Dec. 1 deadline for the submission of individual departmental budgets.

With the completion of follow-up meetings with department heads, to discuss their submitted budgets, a draft town operating budget for fiscal year 2010 would be prepared for selectmen by Dec. 31, Haddad said.

* Haddad told selectmen that he is continuing to research the deed for the Prescott School land and will speak to the state attorney general about the matter. The town is trying to find a way around language in the deed that restricts the land to educational use.

Finding a way around the deed’s language is important if a plan to convert at least part of the former school building into affordable housing is to be realized.

Haddad said that he would continue working on the issue and will attempt to contact the heirs of school land’s original donor for more input.

* The town manager said that a GPS map of the town, indicating which streetlights have been suggested for being turned off, will be posted on the town’s Web site over the course of the next month. Selectmen had asked police Chief Donald Palma to identify those lights in town that could safely be turned off in order to save money. A public hearing is expected to be held at some future date in order to give residents a chance to comment on the issue before any lights are actually shut off.

Nearly 200 streetlights are being considered for termination.

* Selectmen recognized two employees, who received the department’s Water Works Pride Award, were George Brackett and Steve Collette, who have worked for the department for 21 years and 19, years respectively.