By Chris Lisinski
GROTON — Four of the five members of the Board of Selectmen expressed outright support Monday night for the new $813,012 override request that will be put before voters later this month.
Selectmen Anna Eliot, Joshua Degen, Peter Cunningham and Barry Pease all said they are in favor of the override during a discussion Monday night. Chairman Jack Petropoulos abstained from offering an opinion at least until the reworked budget is voted on at the third night of Town Meeting next Monday.
This proposal is the second attempt at an override this year. In May, the town requested a $1.9 million override, mostly to fill a large number of needs in the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District, but voters rejected that measure. School officials reduced their request substantially, and the town made a portion of its budget contingent on the override passing to help navigate these tricky waters.
At Town Meeting, residents will be asked to approve two budgets, one that depends on the override passing and funds this backup plan and another, Plan C version that keeps the municipal government open and functioning even if the override fails in the June 30 special election.
The new override request would increase the average tax bill by about $208.
“I think the School Committee has come back with a significant compromise from their original request,” Pease said. “I think we’ve put some municipal skin in the game on the override as a non-contingent portion and as a contingent portion, so we’re aligned with one town, one budget. And I believe that the needs expressed in this override are valid, so I support it 100 percent.”
Degen and Petropoulos initially said their support would depend on the School Committee agreeing to a structural audit and to set up a committee designed to ensure the district is planning its future finances in a sustainable manner.
The audit, they said, could help maximize efficiency in the district’s spending and free up money that could be put toward needs, and they also argued it would increase the validity of an override request since they would have greater proof of its necessity.
However, Degen then modified his stance and said his support for this year’s override is not contingent upon any plans from the School Committee.
“Certainly, I share (Petropoulos’) concerns about budget sustainability and about an audit,” he said. “However, the biggest concern I have right now is the education of the children … I will say no later unless certain things are done. But this number is much reduced, and I think we need to take a leap of faith in this new administration and new School Committee and trust that they’re going to do what they say they’re going to do.”
During a subsequent vote of support, Petropoulos said he is abstaining until Town Meeting or the special election.
Superintendent Kristan Rodriguez and School Committee Chairman Jeff Kubick were present at Monday’s meeting, and they told the board they are considering both of the suggestions. At Wednesday’s meeting, they said, the committee will vote to form its own version of a sustainability committee, and Rodriguez indicated in her blog Saturday that the committee is interested in seeking an outside organization to do a review of the district’s finances.
In a rural town such as Groton with little commercial presence, it is a challenge to find sufficient revenue, and much of the burden gets shifted onto residents — thus the override request and frequent assertions by town officials that the next few years will likely need further overrides.
The town recently set up its own sustainability committee in an effort to ensure a stable financial future. That committee is in early stages of its work.
Meanwhile, Dunstable is grappling with its own new override request after voters there first rejected a $1.1 million proposal. Now, the town will request a $475,000 override, part of which will go to the schools and part of which will help address a large municipal deficit.
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