By Chris Lisinski
DUNSTABLE — Town Meeting voters approved a new budget Tuesday that is built on a $475,000 override, clearing the way for a solution to financial issues in both the town and its regional school district.
The next, and perhaps most crucial, dot on the horizon is a June 30 election on the override question itself, which would add about $400 to the average property owner’s tax bill. If it fails, the town will be forced to make austere cuts that police and fire officials say would be “devastating” to public safety.
Earlier this year, the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District asked to increase its budget by about $4 million in an attempt to address what it said were growing gaps in performance and services. But to fill that large amount, overrides were required in both towns.
Initially, Groton proposed a $1.9 million override, with Dunstable proposing a $1.1 million override. Budgets including those figures passed at Town Meeting in both municipalities, but voters rejected the overrides at town elections. As a result, Groton, Dunstable and their shared school district were forced to come up with a compromise.
The district cut about $1.35 million from its request, and Dunstable whittled the override figure down to $475,000. Residents at Tuesday’s Town Meeting gave approval to a larger version of Dunstable’s second-round budget, so if the override passes, the district will get all of the money it requested from Dunstable.
A large portion of the money in the override will slot into the municipal budget, which is strained due in no small part to the town’s rural character. Because there are few businesses, most of the burden for revenue is shifted to taxpayers.
Regardless, some parts of the town budget will be cut, because the first override failed last month.
But if the new override fails, those cuts will become even more severe, especially to police and fire: the Police Department will lay off one officer and the Fire Department will be unable to add staffing that it says it needs.
Officials said earlier this week that those cuts would be “near-catastrophic” and would pose a serious risk to public safety.
Groton approved an override-dependent vote at its Town Meeting on Monday.
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