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Select Board Resumes Prescott Spending Wrangle

by Connie Sartini

 

   What started as a Spring Town Meeting warrant article for an additional $87,000 for urgent repairs for the Prescott School, was whittled down to $77,000 with the Friends of Prescott contributing $9,000 for the needed work.

   Town Manager Mark Haddad said that this article is the town’s obligation as a landlord to perform the needed repairs and that the Board needed to put in the article for approval of the $77,000. 

   However, following a lengthy discussion those members of the Board that were present were split with Selectman Josh Degen and Select Board member Alison Manugian opposed to the article, while colleagues John Giger, citing landlord responsibility, and Becky Pine voted to support the article.

   Selectman Josh Degen stressed, “A year ago we faced a $32,000 additional amount of funding at the Spring Town Meeting for unanticipated infrastructure issues.” In the Fall Town Meeting, he said, “voters were asked for another $30,000. Now its Spring Town Meeting and it’s another $77,000. I completely support what the Friends of Prescott are doing but this is a 1930s building. However, there is a flawed philosophy as we move forward that is analogous to the Country Club.  I don’t want to be a landlord,” and suggesting that the building be sold. He added that 

elephant” – the Groton Country Club kept for open space. “I do not support this,” he said.

   Colleague John Giger said he could only support this so far and would support the $77,000. He then read the following letter into the record that was sent to all members of the Board on April 1 from resident Janet Landry Shea.

“To: Groton Select Board

   Regarding the possible taxpayer subsidizing the mission of the Friends of Prescott, it is important to present the historical facts of the project at all times to the taxpayers.

   Specifically, I do not recall that Town Meeting voted to keep the Prescott Building.  The vote that I recall was to not sell the Prescott Building to a specific developer for a specific purpose.

   I also do not recall any vote to make the Friends of Prescott intentions for the Prescott Building a Public-Private project.

   The risks/hazards/building code issues should have been fully vetted before the lease was signed and before any taxpayer funding was given.

   It is also unfair to all the other private businesses in our town who struggle to keep their doors open and who are not eligible for public taxpayer subsidies.

   The Select Board have an obligation to the taxpayers that supersedes any private non-profit’s needs and wants.

   Funding to a private entity is burden that taxpayers should not shoulder.”

   Select Board member Becky Pine stated that the town voted twice not to sell the Prescott School building. In fact, a “committee was appointed by the Board of Selectmen that worked for 18 months creating a detailed, specific blueprint for the future of Prescott School. They laid out the plan for what we are now doing. The programs in Prescott have three years to see if it will work before we look at expensive repairs.”

  Giger pointed out, “This was a relatively small group that got together, but they never presented this to the town for a vote. I do not support this.”

   Pine said that on the town side errors were made. “The Friends of Prescott were told by state officials to talk with the Town’s Building inspector. $77,000 is not a subsidy to the Friends of Prescott. We are the landlord and we need to protect the building from deterioration.” 

   Select Board member Alison Manugian commented, “We need to understand a couple of things. The impetus is on the tenant to understand what they can do. Some of the expenses that are being lumped in aren’t entirely true. Before there was plowing by the Dept. of Public Works, now we have a private contractor plowing.”

   Town Manager Haddad advised the Board that when the building was vacated by the School Department, it was going to cost the town $32,000 to mothball the building. After the lease was negotiated with the Friends, there was $6000 in insurance and $14,000 in landscaping added for a total cost of $62,000. “We did our best at the time.”

   Finance Committee member Bud Robertson agreed with Haddad and Giger that it is the town’s building. “There is cost for plowing, lawn maintenance, insurance. Then there are some emergency electrical issues. We miscalculated and we’ve got to come up with the money per our agreement.”

   Resident Marlena Gilbert asked if when the School Department was the leaseholder, if the town did the same things for them as it is doing for the lease holders at Prescott now.” She said she felt that they are not held responsible at the same level.

   Degen asked Haddad how much of the $62,000 was left and Haddad said about $21,000. DPW Director Tom Delaney cautioned that those funds will be used up in the next month.

   Friends of Prescott President Mary Athey Jennings told the Board, “We are not looking for subsidies, we applied to do this through a Request for Proposal (RFP). When the town put out the RFP, we responded in good faith…We want the three years to make it work. We will advocate for a vote on this at Town Meeting next year.” She added, “Now we are finding issues. This is a matter of upkeep of your building.”

  Following discussion, and numerous scenarios as to what to fund and what to delay, they finally voted on the article for $77,000 for operational funding for Prescott School with two members (Giger, Pine) in support and two members (Degen and Manugian) not in support.

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