By Jon Winkler
GROTON — Voters voiced their support for hiring of two additional firefighters and holding off on an override for another year.
Groton held its annual town meeting at the Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School on Monday night and the three-hour event addressed seven of the nineteen articles on this year’s warrant. All of the articles discussed received approval from the crowd. The remaining 12 articles will be voted on in a second session of the meeting to be held next Monday.
Two articles on the warrant brought up discussion from the panel hosting the event, consisting of Town Manager Mark Haddad, the Select Board and the Finance Committee, along with questions from the audience. Both questions that drew details from the panel were part of article four, which covered the town’s operating budget for Fiscal Year 2020.
Gary Green, chairman of the Finance Committee, broke down individual elements that made up the proposed $39.7 million budget, which is 4.6 percent larger than the Fiscal Year 2019 budget. Green said the reasons for this increase include stabilizing in-levy debt service and unanticipated expenses in school district assessments. He also noted that while the town dipped into its Excess and Deficiency Fund to help balance the budget, there could be a deficit of about $300,000 that would need to be addressed in next year’s budget.
“We had this budget balanced without the need of an override,” Green said. “We wanted to make it explicitly clear that we didn’t support one this year. We determined that to do an override this year for a deficit that may not even happen was pointless.”
The other debated issue was the Protection of Persons & Property section of article four that addressed the town spending about $117,000 to hire two additional firefighters to the Groton Fire Department to offer more responding emergency staff during later hours. These new hires are one of the major factors that have increased the operating budget and concerns of a deficit. Selectman Rebecca Pine, who was opposed to the hiring, said that she didn’t think there had been enough “public discussion” on the issue.
“If the current projections are showing a deficit, we’d either have to make major cuts or override,” Pine said. “It seems unwise to add staff now knowing we may have to lay them off next year.”
Groton Fire Chief Steele McCurdy stressed the need for new staff in the department, harking back to his time at the Littleton Fire Department, where there were similar issues.
“I have read this book and we have seen that there are serious consequences if we fail to act soon enough,” Chief McCurdy said. “The way we’re doing business today is not sustainable in the long term.”
Both sections were approved by voters.