It’s been said that budgets are an expression of our values. Sometimes, however, our values are in conflict. On May 17th, voters in Groton rejected the $1.9 million override question sending a clear message against large increases in property taxes.
During the ensuing conversations, it was equally clear the passion residents have for living in a town that balances the beauty of our open spaces, the safety of our citizens, and the efficient operation of our municipal government along with a first-class education for our students.
The failure of the override necessitated the re-consideration of the entire Groton municipal budget including the assessments of our regional school districts. The Finance Committee, Groton-Dunstable School Committee, and the Board of Selectmen began work after the vote to re-structure both the municipal and GDRSD budgets.
After many hours of thoughtful deliberations, the School Committee and the Finance Committee both brought forward new budget proposals.
During the third night of Town Meeting (June 13th), a budget was passed with certain appropriations made contingent upon passage of a new reduced override in the amount of $812,013. The override vote will take place at the polls in a Special Town Election to be held on Thursday, June 30th, 2016.
The contingent appropriations include $120,696 for municipal staffing in the Information Technology and Municipal Building and Highway departments as well as for lifeguards at Sargisson Beach and funding of employee benefit reserves. The override also contains $691,317 for our schools, to fund the most critical needs assessment items targeted primarily at improving student performance and providing better social and emotional supports for our students. The school district’s re-considered budget reduces the requested number of new, full-time equivalent positions by 65% and lowers the increase in new spending by 57%.
Based on the votes of the Board of Selectmen, the Finance Committee and the Groton-Dunstable School Committee, both the town and the school district feel that the new budget (including the contingent appropriations) reflects the town’s desire to provide for both effective town governance as well as excellent schools. If voters choose to pass the override, the impact to the taxpayer will be as shown inc chart to the right.
For voters’ knowledge, if the override is not approved, all contingent municipal positions outlined above will be cut as of July 1st. Until an approved budget is in place for the school district, it will by law operate on a monthly allowance of 1/12th of the current year’s budget.
The School Committee will be required to re-consider its budget. The re-considered school budget may then require a district-wide meeting of both Groton and Dunstable voters, with the towns required to pay the assessments finalized in any such meeting. It is possible that the final approved budget would require additional municipal cuts to prevent the town from having an out of balance budget.
We feel it is also important to let the voters know how seriously we view the need to develop a sustainable path forward that diminishes the need for yearly overrides. The Town of Groton and the Groton-Dunstable school district have both created Sustainability Committees that are looking at ways to reduce future growth of spending, including operational audits to recommend ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness, and with a target of having initial recommendations before next year’s budget cycle begins.
We recommend voters approve the override question at the ballot on June 30th. “Yes” is a vote for preserving valued town services. “Yes” is a vote for addressing the most critical needs of the school district. “Yes” is a vote for finalizing both the municipal and school budgets for next year. “Yes” is a vote for moving forward while we seek solutions to future fiscal challenges together.
Jeff Kubick – Chairman of the Groton-Dunstable School Committee
Gary Green – Chairman of the Groton Finance Committee