GROTON — A routine vote to send a letter of recommendation to the Community Preservation Committee on behalf of a local business owner turned briefly problematic last Monday night when members of the Board of Selectmen split over what to do.
At issue was a request by Robin Kane, owner of Country Kids daycare who is planning on moving her business into the former Tarbell Elementary School building in West Groton, for use of public funds to help in paying for renovation work at the facility.
According to Town Manager Mark Haddad, Kane wishes to apply for the use of $350,000 in CPC funds to cover the cost of lead paint remediation, roof repairs, installation of a handicapped elevator and handicapped rest room in the historic building.
At one time, Kane had arranged with the town to purchase outright the Tarbell building expecting to pay for renovations with a bank loan. But when that possibility fell through, another deal was proposed in which she would lease the building from the town instead.
That agreement still left the need to pay for renovations so Kane decided to apply to the CPC for funding reasoning that the Tarbell building was public property.
On that basis, Kane, through Haddad, approached selectmen for their support asking them to sign a letter recommending her request to the CPC.
But when the subject came up for a vote last Monday night, former CPC Chairman John Strauss objected calling any award of funding to Kane “unfair” and a “cruel irony” because more legitimate municipal needs such as recreational facilities would end up being deprived.
“I’m not commenting on the project itself (the Tarbell School), just the way it’s funded,” Strauss told selectmen.
Instead, Strauss suggested that alternative funding sources be explored for Kane’s project or that the money she was applying for be taken from other CPC accounts than the unallocated reserve. Should that be done, spending could be spread over a number of years.
Fearful that should the full $350,000 requested be approved, Strauss said that the unallocated reserve balance would be reduced to zero leaving nothing for other municipal projects such as public recreation.
Strauss’ concerns were echoed by selectmen Jack Petropoulos and Joshua Degen the latter of whom expressed worry that the terms of the proposed lease of the Tarbell building had not been settled yet.
In addition, Degen said that he was uncomfortable about spending public money that would benefit a private business that only a limited number of people in town would patronize.
“In the absence of how that lease will work, I absolutely will not support the letter,” said Degen.
Petropoulos agreed adding that although he would like to see that part of town improved, he did not want public funds to pay for it.
Fellow board member Anna Eliot however, called securing the future of the historic Tarbell school a priority, something selectmen have been working at for a long time.
Eliot also expressed reservations about discussing the issue without Kane being present to defend her application.
With a deadline for filing the application looming, board member Peter Cunningham suggested that the issue should be put in the pipeline as soon as possible reminding his colleagues that the ultimate decision whether or not the application should be granted rested with the voters at Town Meeting.
With that, the issue was brought to a vote and passed in a 3-2 decision with Degen and Petropoulos voting against.
Also last Monday night, selectmen:
— Voted to approve the transfer of a liquor license to the new owner of the Clover Farm General Store. The decision followed an earlier vote to award owner Janet Shea a common victualler license. Shea reopened the store last week upon receiving a food service permit from the Board of Health.
— Were informed that a public hearing hosted by the board and Finance Committee to discuss warrant articles scheduled for Town Meeting was rescheduled to Sept. 10 at 7:30 p.m. Town meeting is to be held Oct. 15.
— Voted to appoint Ronald Peck to fill out the unexpired term of Norman Millet on the Groton Housing Authority. Peck is to serve until town elections next spring when he will be required to run for the seat in his own right.
— Voted to appoint the Rev. Paul Ring to the Housing Partnership for a term ending on June 30.