GROTON — Dealing with a number of budget-formulation issues for fiscal 2017, the Finance Committee met Tuesday to discuss among other things, how to get to the point where they would feel comfortable making a specific recommendation to voters at spring Town Meeting.
Board members faced a two-pronged situation: a municipal budget whose annual growth threatened to outstrip the town’s ability to pay and a Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee budget that also threatens a clash of interests as different communities within the town’s population line up for or against a multi-million dollar increase in spending.
On the municipal side, the town’s Charter gives the FinCom some leverage in the budget-formulation process but the situation is not the same on the school side.
As pointed out by Fincom Chairman Gary Green, although the FinCom could advise, comment, and otherwise participate in the school’s budget process, it is forbidden by law to make any demands of the schools’ administration.
Those administrators unveiled their preliminary budget proposal for fiscal 2017 at a School Committee meeting held Feb. 10.
There, the district’s bottom line figure totaled $40,475,339 an increase over 2016 of $4,025,509.
Anticipating questions about such a large jump in spending, school officials have suggested the use of overrides to reach its goal.
In response to the constantly upward trend in spending for both the town and the schools, the Board of Selectmen established a Sustainable Budget Study Committee to which the FinCom at their meeting Tuesday, appointed member Art Prest to represent its interests.
In his own report to the committee, Prest summarized a comparison he made between the Groton-Dunstable school system and that of Westford and found them roughly equal even though Westford spent less per pupil despite a stronger tax base.
Noting that Groton-Dunstable continued to see a decline in enrollment with an 18 percent drop since 2006, Prest predicted that any override requests made by the district would fail both in Groton and Dunstable.
The FinCom will meet with school and other town officials to discuss the education budget on Saturday and inform School Superintendent Kristan Rodriguez of its concerns.
In the meantime, the Finance Committee continued to deal with the municipal side of the ledger as well, mulling over directions given by selectmen to Town Manager Mark Haddad to come up with three different spending scenarios for fiscal 2017:
* A carryover budget covering all fixed costs incurred by the town as they currently stand including contractual obligations, insurance, benefits, and utilities.
* Taking the “big three” budget drivers and finding a way to keep new spending down to 2.2 percent.
* Taking the “big three” budget drivers and finding a way to keep spending at zero while maintaining police, fire, and road maintenance, at levels that did not threaten public safety.