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Groton flush with new revenue as budget cycle begins


GROTON — Plans by the Board of Selectmen to form a new Charter Review Committee may have hit a bump in the road after the Finance Committee questioned its timing.

The issue arose at the FinCom’s meeting of Nov. 17 when a vote was called to choose two members to represent the group on the new committee.

Immediately, the Finance Committee found itself with an embarrassment of riches when at least four members registered interest in joining the new committee: Art Prest, Robert Hargraves, Mark Bacon and Bud Robertson.

Enthusiasm was cooled somewhat when the hurry by selectmen to form the new committee was questioned. Referencing the Charter, wording there indicated that although such a committee could be appointed before spring town meeting, its work could only begin afterward with recommendations, if any, to be made the following year.

So why the rush? FinCom members wondered.

“We’ve got lots of time,” noted Prest.

Deciding to wait until the full board is present to make the appointments (who need not be members but simply designees of the committee’s choice), FinCom decided to hold off on the decision.

In the meantime, members voted to authorize chairman Gary Green to speak with selectmen or the town manager about the timing issue.

Anyone interested in representing the FinCom on the new committee are urged to contact the Town Clerk’s Office.

Unlike the Charter Review Committee, the FinCom had less trouble appointing member Barry Pease as its representative on a new Electronic Voting Committee.

The choice was only tentative, however, as Pease was not present to accept the position.

The meeting itself represented the calm before the new budget formulation cycle for fiscal year 2016. At the end of December, town manager Mark Haddad is required by the town’s Charter to submit a budget for the coming year.

Earlier in the month, Haddad briefed selectmen on his forecast regarding the town’s fiscal situation in 2016.

Haddad reported that the town is in good shape as he begins work on the new budget. Groton will have had its levy limit increased by $922,000 with an estimated $820,000 in state aid for the coming year.

In addition, more revenue in the shape of $100,000 from a newly approved meals tax could be expected for a total of $1,240,000 in increased revenue in fiscal year 2016.

Such news lined up well with Haddad’s quarterly report for fiscal year 2015. He reported that revenue collection was strong and expenditures within predicted parameters.

For his part, Green expressed confidence in Haddad’s ability to present a balanced budget that meets the needs of the town. That includes taking into account predicted increases in school spending by both the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District and the Nashoba Valley Technical School District.

“Mark has done a very good job in the last five years,” said Green. “I think this year (Groton-Dunstable) is going to want higher spending than it has had in previous budgets but I believe that Mark will account for that.

“The town manager has done a good job in past years coming up with budgets that come in by at least $100,000 under the levy limit,” said Green.

At last spring’s town meeting, residents voted in a clear majority to approve a municipal budget for fiscal 2015 of $33,240,844. The budget represented a 6.5 percent increase from fiscal year 2014 that brought the average annual tax bill for homeowners to $7,360.

Driving the increase was $18,328,798 earmarked for school expenses including Groton-Dunstable Regional School District and Nashoba Valley Regional Technical High School.

Alone, the Groton-Dunstable portion of school expenses came to $17,756,023, which included $1.4 million contributed by the town to help the district make ends meet.

The $1.4 million was needed to make up the major part of a shortfall in district spending discovered earlier in 2015.