GROTON — There was general agreement from selectmen on the goals they want to pursue in the coming year until it came time to setting economic and budgetary objectives.
The disagreement came at a special meeting of the board held Sept. 29 when members found themselves at loggerheads in determining a balance between the municipal budget and that of the schools.
“I don’t like setting a firm line,” said Selectman Stuart Schulman of an approach to budgeting suggested by fellow Selectman Jack Petropoulos.
Petropoulos, who attended the meeting remotely from Germany, suggested that in considering what the annual growth in spending should be and setting budgetary priorities, the town should hold the line. It should not allow spending to exceed revenue projections on the municipal side but allow some leeway for the schools.
Objecting to the approach, Town Manager Mark Haddad called it unfair and said it was impossible for him to know what the needs of the schools are by October when he begins formulating the town’s budget.
Haddad is legally obligated by the town’s charter to submit a balanced budget to selectmen by the end of the calendar year. With the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District and the Nashoba Valley Technical High School’s budget formulation process on a different track dependent on state aid, final school numbers are unavailable until well into the new year.
For that reason, much guesswork needs to go into the town’s budget, said Haddad. To tie his hands with fixed spending would prevent him from doing what he was mandated to do.
Underscoring Haddad’s point, Chairman Josh Degen reported on a joint meeting with school officials held earlier where it was revealed that for fiscal 2016, the district would need to ask for an increase in its current budget of between 2.76 to 3.71 percent next year.
Degen told Petropoulos that tying spending to revenue projections is unrealistic and does not take into account uncertainties like utility and insurance costs, and the results of union negotiations.
Agreeing with Degen, Haddad said the unequal approach to municipal and school budgeting is something he has been fighting since he became town manager.
Degen suggested the town try to accede to Petropoulos’ suggestion but that it should not be tied to it.
Citing an earlier Congressional pledge not to increase federal taxes that prevent increased spending in emergencies, Schulman said he does not care for an absolutist approach to budgeting.
Unable to decide on the issue, selectmen did not include it in a subsequent vote approving a list of its goals for the coming year and are expected to revisit the question at a later date.
Among the goals that did receive board approval were:
* Continued efforts to make sure all town employees and members of boards and committees are compliant with the state’s Open Meeting Law.
* Revising the committee appointment process.
* Continued efforts to improve communications with the public.
* Optimizing efforts giving local media access to public records.
* Continued efforts to improve public safety and parking downtown.
* Working with developers and Groton Electric Light Department to install utilities underground along Main Street.
* Continued review of Country Club operations.
* Continued efforts to convince local nonprofit entities to increase voluntary contributions to the town.
* Continued efforts to develop an affordable housing strategy for the town.