GROTON — Agreeing to the need for a number of new positions, officials reached a consensus on the shape of the town’s fiscal 2010 budget that will also include salary increases for many municipal employees.
“This is about as reasonable as it is going to get,” Board of Selectmen Chairman Joshua Degen said at a joint meeting of his board and the Finance Committee on Tuesday, March 17.
Also in attendance was town manager Mark Haddad and town accountant Valerie Jenkins.
Haddad was on hand to explain changes made to his proposed FY10 budget, since it had been submitted to selectmen earlier in the year, and to defend its provisions against probing questions from members of the Finance Committee.
For its part, the FinCom was still in the process of reviewing Haddad’s proposed budget, including a number of new positions that, if approved, would expand the town’s payroll at a time of economic uncertainty.
Haddad has suggested the hiring of a new officer for the Police Department as well as the creation of an Information Technology (IT) manager. Also proposed is the formalization of the working hours for a position currently shared among the town’s land-use boards and committees.
The position that found the strongest support among FinCom members and selectmen was that of the IT manager, which members of both groups felt was much needed to keep municipal government running smoothly at a time of growing dependence on technology.
If approved by town meeting voters, the cost for the IT manager would come to $34,000 annually.
On the other hand, the cost of hiring a new police officer, whose salary would come to $36,000 annually, would end up costing considerably less if money from other line items were used to make up a portion of it.
In that case, the actual cost to the town for hiring a new officer would come to only $15,000.
“I call that a bargain for the FY10 budget,” Degen said.
As a result, the police position also garnered across-the-board support from town officials, with FinCom members making theirs conditional on whether or not the new position ends up costing the town more despite the town manager’s calculations.
Finally, both groups were also in favor of Haddad’s plan for the land-use coordinator position.
Haddad’s suggestion for the land-use coordinator had the advantage of not costing the town any more money. The position was initially threatened when the Water Department moved to eliminate from its budget the seven hours paid to the land-use coordinator, as a cost-saving measure.
According to Haddad, the land-use coordinator position divides the cost of its 33 work hours among various departments including the Planning Board, the Conservation Commission and the building inspector, as well as the Water Department.
Conceding the value of the position in helping to make the permitting process as easy as possible, Haddad said he would like to see the seven hours paid by the Water Department preserved and the expense shared among the budgets of the other three groups.
Since the suggestion would not involve added cost to the town, but only an internal transfer of previously appropriated funds, the change would not affect the budget’s bottom line which, as of January, stood at $28.7 million.
That figure represented a 2.52 percent increase in municipal spending over 2009 and was at least partially driven by fixed costs and salary increases. In fact, Haddad informed officials Tuesday night that the final shape of the budget would not be known for some time, pending the settlement of negotiations with one more local union.
Adding to officials’ worries was the lurking fear that still more cuts in local aid could be handed down by the state including Chapter 70 money for the schools.
Selectmen and FinCom members also voted Tuesday night to approve a 2.5 percent increase in the town’s contribution to the budget for the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District as well as an increase of 7.2 percent for Nashoba Valley Tech.
Degen noted that town officials plan to meet with officials from Lawrence Academy, one of the town’s several private schools that are not required to pay any taxes, to discuss an increase in the money it voluntarily provides to the town each year in lieu of taxes.
A public hearing on the FY10 town budget is scheduled for March 23.