GROTON — A number of emergency requests for financial assistance led to a discussion on the philosophy of the Community Preservation Committee and its responsibility for disbursing the public funds it manages for taxpayers.
At issue at the committee’s meeting of Aug. 11 were “out of cycle” applications by the Sargisson Beach Committee, Conservation Commission and Groton Trails Committee.
In each, groups applied for more funding in addition to previously awarded money intended for projects recommended by the CPC and subsequently approved by voters at town meeting.
In each case, groups seeking the added funds made their cases for the extra cash, but only one succeeded in acquiring the support of the committee.
Speaking for the Sargisson Beach Committee was town manager Mark Haddad who said that five bids had been received for erosion control work planned for the public beach. But due to the need for getting the whole project finished at once, in terms of cost and practicality, the whole project needed to be paid for at once and not in two parts as originally planned.
The Sargisson Beach Committee had originally been approved for $109,000 covering the first part of the job with the understanding that the remaining cost of the project, totaling $76,000, would be appropriated later.
“It’s cheaper for the town in the long run,” said Haddad to do the project all at once. Delays for the second part, he said, would only cause bids to rise in an inflationary economy while bringing the risk that contractors would decline to bid on such a small portion of the project.
Agreeing with Haddad, town planner Michelle Collette said that waiting a whole year would only add to the damage being done to the beach.
“This issue needs to be addressed sooner rather than later,” said Collette. “It’s a really good project that is long overdue.”
“I think it’s the worthwhile thing to do,” agreed CPC member Robert DeGroot. “It seems stupid to start and go and then wait a whole year. Let’s get it done. We’ve got the cash.”
DeGroot added that the conditions noted by Haddad and Collette involved “unusual circumstances” that were covered in CPC rules.
But DeGroot’s plea only sparked debate among members about the danger of setting a precedent for such “out of cycle” requests with fellow member Bruce Easom dissenting.
Easom, who attended the meeting remotely, argued that the potential cost of a project was not enough to trigger the unusual circumstances rule. There was danger in making such requests the rule and not the exception to CPC practices.
The town manager, however, disagreed on the issue of cost saying it should be a “major consideration” by the committee. Haddad said it was the responsibility of town officers to keep the welfare of taxpayers in mind when making their decisions.
In the end, committee members were split on the decision, approving the request by a 3-1 vote with Easom in dissent and Gineane Haberlin abstaining.
With the vote, the question will next move on to fall town meeting where residents will have the final say.
Not so lucky was the Conservation Commission, represented by administrator Takashi Tada.
Tada told the board that with only $425,000 remaining in the commission’s conservation fund, additional money was needed to make sure there would be enough on hand to meet any opportunity that came up to buy open land.
At the moment, Tada said, the commission is in discussions with owners of two properties in town including an 80-acre tract off Graniteville Road and a 21.5-acre site in West Groton.
Although Tada said the exact cost of each property is not yet known due to ongoing negotiations, enough money needed to be in the conservation fund to pay for the town’s share of purchase prices after any state or federal grants are awarded.
Overall, said the conservation administrator, it was understood that between $700,000 and $1 million should be on hand in the fund at all times to make sure adequate money is available to cover contingencies.
But this time committee members were not convinced that the situation met the “unusual circumstances” standard and voted down the request.
According to Tada, the denial may not damage the commission’s pursuit of the two properties. Negotiations for their purchase are expected to continue.
Also denied was a request by the Trails Committee for a guarantee by the CPC of coverage of $4,400 needed to match a grant of $17,600 toward upgrading a portion of the Nashua River trail for handicapped accessibility.
Although board members were in sympathy with the project, they decided that it did not meet the unusual circumstances standard and voted against it.