By Chris Lisinski
GROTON — If the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District has its way, the timeline of the town’s budgeting process would get pushed back to match up more closely with the school’s.
The district asked the Charter Review Committee to consider pushing back the due date of the town manager’s budget proposal from Dec. 31, where it currently stands, to Feb. 15. That request was the subject of a Wednesday joint meeting between the Charter Review Committee, the Finance Committee and members of the Board of Selectmen.
No final action was taken — a more concrete decision will come at the July 6 Charter Review Committee meeting — though the various officials debated the merits of such a change for almost two hours.
The school district believes such a change would allow the town to build a budget based on a more accurate estimate of what is needed to fund the schools. Currently, the town uses an estimate from the schools because the district cannot finalize its budget until it learns what it will receive in state aid, usually around January.
School Committee Chairman Jeff Kubick said that the change would also help avoid a perception that the school district is solely responsible for any financial challenges.
“If you have a Dec. 31 budget that gets set by the municipal side and then the school district comes in after that and there’s any variability, the perception there is that the school is requesting cuts to the town budget,” he said.
Town Manager Mark Haddad could not attend Wednesday’s meeting, but he wrote in a statement that he has “no problem” with the change. However, most of the Finance Committee members in attendance voiced concerns over the repercussions on scheduling.
Some worried that if the town’s budget due date were later, the Finance Committee would have less time to go through it and form a finalized version — and in that case, decisions would creep closer and closer to the end of the fiscal year.
Some Finance Committee members also argued that the district can and has provided reasonably accurate estimates by December so that a substantial portion of the town’s budgeting process can be done in time.
“I don’t understand how this whole change is going to do anybody any good,” said Finance Committee member Bud Robertson. “Later is not good. We need to have it earlier so we can figure out what the heck we’re going to do.”
This year, whatever budget goes through comes down to a last-minute vote: Today, residents will vote on a second override proposal. If it fails, the town will cut about $120,000 to put it toward the school district’s needs. Even then, the district will not be able to fill as many of its needs as it would like.
The Charter Review Committee will once again take up the issue at its July 6 meeting.
Chairman Mike Manugian said Wednesday that the committee is accepting proposals for changes to the charter from anyone in the community. Those interested must submit suggestions by Aug. 1 at 11:59 p.m.
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