GROTON — In a fast-moving continuation of Town Meeting, residents on Monday considered the 26 articles remaining on the warrant after a pair of more contentious sessions held in earlier weeks.
Chief among the articles, however, was a request by the Conservation Commission for $200,000 to replenish its Conservation Fund, which is intended for use in buying or securing for purchase open land in town when it becomes available.
There is currently $523,000 available in the fund.
A question about whether the commission needed the extra money was raised by Selectman Jack Petropoulos at an earlier selectmen’s meeting, when he wondered if the town had enough open land.
That question was answered in a presentation given at Town Meeting by the Conservation Commission arguing for a continued need to acquire open space in order to safeguard land already under protection.
Furthermore, as some argued, the alternative was to see such land developed for residential use with all of its concomitant expenses to services and schools. It was more economical in the long run to keep land open.
Those arguments won out when an amendment by Selectman Peter Cunningham to downsize the request from $200,000 to $140,000 was defeated and the original amount was supported with a majority vote.
Also garnering a bit of controversy was a request by members of the Old Meetinghouse for $203,333 to help pay for renovations at the historic church.
Standing in opposition, on the grounds of separation of church and state, was Leslie Lathrop. She argued that use of public funds for a house of worship violated the law.
Conceding the church did much for the community, Lathrop said it was still a religious institution that through its non-taxable status, did not contribute monetarily to the town.
“I don’t think we should vote for this,” she said. “It’s just wrong.”
Called upon to voice an opinion, the town’s legal counsel said use of the money was permissible for historical preservation purposes.
Selectman Joshua Degen said he had originally opposed the request on the same grounds as Lathrop, but changed his mind after viewing the building in its historical context.
Furthermore, should the congregation abandon the church, the building’s ownership would revert to the town anyway, so it was incumbent on the town to invest a modest amount in its upkeep against possible future ownership.
The request passed easily with a strong majority vote.
Other expenditures that were approved by voters included $24,932 to make local trail systems handicapped accessible; $109,000 to repair two basketball courts; $60,000 to pay for a study to find out what parks and open spaces in town need to be made handicapped accessible; $49,509 to pay for the salary of a new affordable housing coordinator; and $17,000 to complete an engraving project involving the town’s historic milestones.
Also approved by the 78 registered voters was permission given to selectmen to sell the former Tarbell School in West Groton should an acceptable offer be made for its purchase.
The most recent request-for-proposal issued by the town has yielded a pair of offers to buy the building; one to renovate it as office space and another to turn it into residential units.
Along with the authorization to sell, residents also voted to rezone the Tarbell’s parcel from public use to residential-agricultural in anticipation of a possible sale.
Degen urged approval of the measures in order to spare the building from “the wrecking ball.”
In other warrant articles, voters:
* Approved the expenditure of $100,000 from the Board of Selectmen’s Gift Fund for use in constructing a new municipal parking lot behind a pair of Main Street banks with access to Station Avenue.
* Approved the transfer of $175,000 from the overlay surplus fund to make up for deficit spending on snow and ice removal during last winter’s snowstorms.
* Approved the appropriation of $22,000 to pay for new voting machines that will replace current machines deemed on the verge of becoming mechanically unreliable.
* Authorized use of money in the home recycling revolving fund for use in purchasing additional recycling equipment.