GROTON — For the second time this year, selectmen considered the adoption of a meals tax in Groton.
According to Town Manager Mark Haddad, the .75 percent tax would be in addition to a 6.2 percent tax already applied to meals by the state. The additional amount would be collected by food-service providers together with the state’s share and submitted to the commonwealth in one lump sum. From there, the state would redistribute Groton’s .75 share back to the town.
“This is a minor tax that could be a great benefit to the town,” Haddad told selectmen.
Haddad said that based on earlier estimations, the new meals tax could have yielded up to $100,000 per year for the town in 2014 if it had been implemented.
Selectmen considered such a tax last March after an accounting oversight by the School Department left officials scrambling to make up the shortfall.
At the time, a meals tax for the town had been supported by board Chairman Joshua Degen, who felt that every potential source of revenue should at least have been reviewed.
Members decided not to join many other Massachusetts towns in levying a meals tax on local restaurants and take-outs because the estimated income that could be collected did not seem worth the effort.
The board voted to allow the issue to be placed on the warrant for fall Town Meeting.
Local restaurateurs at the meeting Monday protested the meals tax.
“It hurts us,” said Johnson’s Drive-in owner Rick Santiano, adding it would be an added burden for the “ordinary guy.”
“It might be a small thing to you, but it does hurt us,” he said.
“It doesn’t seem like a lot but it is a lot,” added Filio’s owner Ozzie Filio.
Filio said if a typical tip were included with the state and local meals taxes, the customer’s check could amount to as much as 25 percent of the total. Sooner or later, said the restaurateur, customers would stop coming.
Member Peter Cunningham asked Filio if what amounted to an average 37 cents extra on the check was so bad?
Degen called the added amount “small potatoes,” something that would not affect businesses.
Selectmen also chose to rescind an earlier vote denying use of the town’s public ways for surveying activity planned by the Kinder Morgan Co. that has proposed running a natural-gas pipeline through a number of local communities, including Groton.
Since the original vote, the board had received a letter from Kinder Morgan expressing its belief that denying it access to the public ways is illegal and that it intended to proceed with its plans.
Selectman Stuart Schulman returned to the board with a new motion with more specific language that he said counsel had assured him would stand up to legal scrutiny.
Cunningham asked what would prevent Kinder Morgan from proceeding with its survey using GPS technology? A vote to approve new language would still only amount to an expression of the town’s displeasure.
The board agreed, but believed declaring a position even if the warning had no teeth was worthwhile.
Degen said he hoped every community affected by Kinder Morgan’s plans would take a similar stand.
Selectman Jack Petropoulos disagreed, seeing a problem of civil rights involved with denying anyone the use of public ways. It set a bad precedent, he said.
“I’m concerned with the side effects,” said Petropoulos, that denying use of public ways would also hamper the town’s negotiating stance with Kinder Morgan.
But Degen said “time was of the essence” to vote, because the company’s surveyors were due to arrive the next day.
Quizzing Police Chief Donald Palma on the legality of denying Kinder Morgan use of the public roads, Palma he was not sure if it would be enforceable.
“There’s no crime that I can see at face value,” said Palma. He said he would double-check with the District Attorney’s Office.
Selectmen voted to rescind their earlier vote and replace it with similar language but adding that no surveying could be done without written approval by the board and only after the applicant presented a public interest finding from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
* Voted to petition the Planning Board to rezone the property holding the former Prescott Elementary School by including it in the downtown-overlay district. The move comes preparatory to the building’s possible purchase by a developer whose plans involve renovating the historic structure for use as office space.
* Witnessed the swearing-in of the town’s new fire chief. Steele McCurdy began work that day as former chief Joseph Bosselait retired after 14 years of service. “I am honored and humbled to be here and look forward to working with all the members of the community but especially the Fire Department,” said McCurdy. The Fire Department has scheduled an open house event for Sept. 13 in recognition of the opening of the new Center Fire Station located off Farmers Row.
* Voted to appoint Robert Piche to the town’s Cable Advisory Committee.