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Groton Select Board moves new school project forward; gives town manager high marks

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GROTON — The town awarded its first bond for the new Florence Roche Elementary School during Monday’s Select Board meeting.

Town Manager Mark Haddad said Groton received four bids for the project’s first phase. The low bid came from Robert W. Baird & Co. He recommended the Select Board authorize the sale to Baird & Co. saying it would save the town’s residents money.

“At the end of the day, we only have to borrow $7.3 million instead of the $8 million, which saves the taxpayers money,” Haddad said. “The total interest payment over the life of the bond, which is 20 years, is $1.6 million, which is another win for the taxpayers.”

In part because of Groton’s AAA bond rating and financial status, Haddad said Baird was essentially paying the town to borrow the $8 million it needs.

Select Board member Peter Cunningham compared it to “receiving a free toaster.”

With Baird & Co. offering to pay the town, a lower true interest cost and less term until paid off, all added to cost savings for the town Haddad said.

“We ran the numbers and it’s $0.06 on the tax rate or $30.36 for an additional tax for the fiscal year 2022,” Haddad said. “But at the end of the day, it saves the town, a substantial amount of money by doing this now, having an interest rate of 1.67% and paying it off in 20 years.

The net interest cost of the bond is just over $1.6 million.

“The one caveat,” Haddad said, is that it will include a $115,000 interest payment due in fiscal year 2022. With the fall town meeting scheduled, there will be a warrant article to approve the budget appropriation.

Select Board Chair Becky Pine stated the reason for taking a phased approach to bonding was a legal one. While it would be nice to borrow all of the money at once, it just isn’t an option.

“Seventy-five percent of the money you borrow has to be spent within a year’s period of time,” Haddad added. “So there’s no way we’d spent $52 million in a year.”

Voters approved the construction of the new Florence Roche Elementary School at the annual spring town meeting in May. Later that month, they approved a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion ballot question. The possibility of the Massachusetts School Building Authority reimbursing the construction costs still exists.

The new school will be built behind the current one on the track. When the school is complete, a new track will be constructed using funds from the Community Preservation Act.

Also on Monday night, the Select Board completed Haddad’s annual performance evaluation. Cunningham, just elected to the board, did not take part in the evaluation.

Overall, his work was “outstanding” over the past year, Pine said. Haddad earned 560 out of 620 possible points on the evaluation.

Areas where Haddad did not receive “the highest marks” were all interpersonal skills.

Pine emphasized there were no areas where Haddad scored in the needs improvement territory.

“Overall, I think it’s clear, we are all very happy with Mark’s performance,” Pine said.

In response to the favorable review, Haddad chose to forego his 3% cash payment incentive. Earlier this year, Haddad also gave up his 2% cost of living adjustment as town employees received zero.

Haddad instead asked he receive a 1.5% cash payment now and receive a 2% cash payment in December. Both payments are one-time and will not be added to his base compensation.

In other business, the Select Board:

  • Heard from the Prescott School Community Center about their performance over the past year and plans to improve the site in the future.
  • Approved Haddad’s recommendation to set the Stormwater Utility User Fee at $52. The fee is an increase from last year’s fee of $42. Haddad said the increase was due to an erroneous parcel count. An explanation will be included with this year’s bill.
  • Approved a mask mandate for all members of the public entering public buildings, with the exception of Groton-Dunstable Regional School District. The mandate also extends to town employees working in public spaces but exempts those working in their offices on their own or with one other vaccinated employee.
  • Approved a requirement to have town employees to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination by Aug. 31. Members Josh Degen and John Reilly voted against the motion. Members Cunningham, Pine, and Alison Manugian voted in favor.