FINCOM Wants Fire Station Funding on Town-Wide Ballot
by Connie Sartini
The Finance Committee voted to support a proposal from resident Rule Loving slated for the Jan. 26 Town Meeting to place the funding for the proposed Center Fire Station on a town-wide ballot that would give all voters in town the opportunity to address the largest municipal expenditure in the history of Groton, excluding the regional school district. Finance Committee Chairman Jay Prager said, "When the town spends seven and a half to eight million dollars, all the townspeople need to vote on it."
FinCom members Mike Flynn, Peter De Franco and Bob Hargraves voted in favor, Gary Green voted no and Chairman Prager and Steve Webber abstained. The FinCom will meet again Tuesday to discuss the results of questions they have submitted to Town Counsel regarding how to get the vote on a town wide ballot, with debt exclusion or without using debt exclusion.
The issue of the planned funding mechanism, using the funds available under the levy limit to pay for the bond on the station, elicited concern from FinCom member Hargraves who pointed out that the "schools have been flat lined for the last two years." Colleague Webber added, "The discussion is not about the fire station, but how the vote should happen...I want large money articles voted on by the whole town."
Regarding the schools, Webber said he was unsure what funding they would ask for but said there is a strong need to address the Information Technology area, and probably they will need additional personnel to do this.
Prager said it is possible to exclude a portion of the debt which would have the effect of forcing it to go to a ballot. What is the resolution to this, he asked.
Town Accountant Patricia Dufresne cautioned that if the decision was to take the vote to a town-wide ballot, "it may have to be re-bid if it goes over 30 days. The contractors are not obligated to their bid. We would have to ask them if they are willing to extend them." She noted that a special ballot vote could cost $6K.
The FinCom hopes to have answers from Town Counsel at their next Tuesday's meeting.
The article regarding Fitch's Bridge was again discussed as the bids for the demolition only and the demolition and replacement came in much lower than expected. Prager advised that the Community Preservation Committee approved an out-of-cycle request for $220K, to cover part of this and expected that $160K to demolish the bridge would come from Stabilization.
The FinCom voted 6 to 0 not to support the bridge, but they did vote to support the demolition only.
Some Fin Com members characterized the request as just 'frivolous' and the 'bridge to nowhere'. There was also concern expressed that only a very small number of residents would benefit from a bridge for equestrians, bicyclists and pedestrians.
Member Webber again raised his concern for the schools and said that the needs in the IT area could cause one year of debt to get the program fully operational. He stated, "We can't afford the bridge. I think we have a very tight budget right now." Green agreed, "The timing is wrong and I don't want