GROTON – In a wide ranging meeting held last week, town officials covered everything from traffic regulations to earth-removal issues.
First up was a proposal made by Town Manager Mark Haddad involving the consolidation of duties to be performed for a number of different land- use boards and committees by a land-use coordinator.
In making his case to the Board of Selectmen at its meeting of Sept. 8, Haddad argued that his proposal would not only improve office efficiency by having a number of different functions brought under the control of a single person, but also save the town in the neighborhood of $37,000 in the fiscal 2010 budget.
“This will make us more accountable to the public,” Haddad said of the move.
Although selectmen were not opposed to the notion, some members balked at the possibility of including enforcement of zoning regulations in the coordinator’s duties, seeing it as a conflict of interest.
Agreeing with fellow board member Fran Dillon that zoning enforcement should be kept separate, Selectman Joshua Degen called the suggestion of consolidating the various land use board functions “a great idea” but in regards to enforcement, the land use coordinator should report to the town manager.
Reiterating his position, Dillon insisted that a separation of coordination efforts and enforcement would “guarantee independence” for the land use coordinator.
Haddad, however, sought to assure board members that the land-use coordinator would not have the chance to abuse its responsibilities.
“The town manager ultimately has the responsibility for all these positions,” Haddad said. “I don’t see the conflict issue at all.”
The board took no position on the proposal Monday night.
Also at their Sept. 8 meeting, selectmen showed considerably stronger support for a “wildly popular” program that gives senior citizens a break on their property taxes by working on odd jobs for the town.
So popular has the program become, reported Town Treasurer Christine Collins, that there have been more applicants for the jobs than there are positions to be filled. So much so, that applicants have begun to line up early outside town hall in order to be the first to sign up.
So far, up to 40 slots have been available but many more people than that apply for the jobs. Collins even said that there have been grumblings that the system used to hire applicants has not been a fair one.
Collins appeared before the board Monday night to suggest a change in the selection process by basing it on income rather than first come first served. The greater the need, the more likely an applicant was to be hired.
The program itself allows senior citizens to work a total of 55 hours doing odd jobs around town in exchange for cutting $500 from property taxes per household.
“I think it’s a good policy,” said Dillon of hiring on the basis of income.
Although selectmen supported the income based selection process, they decided to hold off taking an official vote on the proposal until their next meeting when a formally worded policy could be placed before them.
If all goes smoothly, Collins said she hoped to be able to implement the new policy by Oct. 1.
Selectmen also heard some good news from Haddad Monday night regarding future use of the former Prescott Elementary School building.
Following a study conducted for the board, a consultant determined that the best location for a town sponsored affordable housing project would be at the Prescott building site.
Unfortunately, conditions of an agreement between the town and the donors of the land upon which the Prescott School building rests restricts its use for no other purpose than education.
But with the school’s closure as an operating elementary school by the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District last year, the way seemed clear to put the structure to other uses.
As a result, the town sought the opinion of the state attorney general’s office to find out if the original agreement with the donor would allow for a change in the property’s use.
When that opinion was returned in the affirmative, the town filed to have the change of use made official and Haddad reported Monday that a court decision had cleared the way for an expansion of use of the Prescott School that could include affordable housing.
There was no decision Monday night on immediate next steps for the possible creation of affordable housing on the property.
But as the state giveth, the state taketh away.
Balancing out the good news regarding Prescott, Haddad also reported that an application with the state to place a signal at a dangerous intersection of Townsend Road and Route 119 would be delayed.
With the holiday season fast approaching, selectmen felt that where there was one delay, more would follow until action might only be taken in the spring. Convinced of the urgency of the situation where lives could be at stake, the board instructed Haddad to press the issue with the state’s Highway Department to move more quickly on the request.
Finally, Monday night, selectmen voted to adopt an update to the town’s traffic rules and regulations which Haddad said had not been done since 1945.
In making its decision, the board expressed concerns regarding traffic fines, parking, site distances from crosswalks, and vehicle weight limits. The town manager was to report back at a future date with the appropriate adjustments.