GROTON — The Finance Committee wound up an eventful year Tuesday night when they met with Town Manager Mark Haddad for a final meeting before the end of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
In a year that was marked with a number of fiscal challenges — not least among them dealing with the town’s budget for fiscal 2011 — Tuesday’s meeting turned out to be a rather sedate affair.
After voting on a pair of simple fund transfers within the current budget, members settled back for a few months of calm before the whole budget formulation process starts all over again for fiscal 2012, yet another year in which difficulties similar to those the town’s fiscal officers have been forced to deal with are expected to be encountered.
For that reason, FinCom Chairman Jay Prager, noting how smoothly the formulation process had proceeded over the last year despite monetary difficulties, asked Haddad to once again arrange for regular meetings between committee members and department heads in the fall to discuss their individual budget projections and avoid last-minute “surprises.”
Since being hired by the town in 2008 as its first manager, Haddad has been integral to the budget-formulation process, doing the heavy lifting early in the process before submitting a completed spending plan for the next year to the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee.
Haddad’s role in the budget-formulation process is spelled out in his job description and authorized in the town charter, the results of which, acknowledged by selectmen and others, have been satisfactory in streamlining a process that had often been a bumpy one in the past.
The appointment of a town manager, it seemed, came just in time as the state’s economic climate turned chill,y sending ripples across Massachusetts as regular revenue estimates continued to be scaled back.
The result has been a number of significant cuts in aid to cities and towns for which local fiscal planners have had to scramble to accommodate. Last year, for instance, a late cut in state funding hit Groton’s carefully balanced municipal budget with a $200,000 shortfall that Haddad was forced to account for.
In addition, long-feared cuts by the state in education and transportation aid finally came true, forcing the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District to scale back proposed spending by as much as $1.23 million. An attempt to raise the extra cash failed when voters rejected an override measure in the amount of $931,336.
With the state’s economy still in the doldrums and an unemployment rate hovering at 10 percent, there seems little likelihood that the lost funding will be restored any time soon, which guarantees more fiscal gymnastics for town planners in the next budget cycle.
That will begin in the fall, shortly after a Special Town Meeting scheduled for Oct. 19, at which Haddad is expected to craft a town budget for fiscal 2012 for presentation to the Board of Selectmen and FinCom by Dec. 31.
At that point, the Finance Committee will enter the real work of reviewing the proposed budget line item by line item, and making its recommendations for consideration by Haddad and ultimately residents at Annual Town Meeting in the spring.
But long before that happens, the FinCom, acknowledged by Prager at last Tuesday’s meeting, is expected to lose at least a pair of current members. Fortunately, however, there did not seem to be a shortage of candidates interested in filling the empty seats, with a number of them in attendance at the committee’s meeting on June 15.
Prager declined to say which members of his committee would be among those leaving.
In the meantime, Haddad confirmed that with no more cuts in spending coming down from the state, the town’s budget for 2011 that was approved at Annual Town Meeting was in no danger of being unbalanced.
Haddad said that projections of state funding for 2011 used by the town in making its budget turned out to be reliable.
The Finance Committee’s next meeting, at which plans for the upcoming budget process are to be discussed, is scheduled for July 6.