SPARKS FLY: GELD, Selectmen At Odds . . . Selectmen Lash Out, Criticize GELD For 'Whining' & 'Arrogant Attitude'
Groton Electric Light Dept. Commissioners Chairman Kevin Lindemer informed the Board of Selectmen Monday night that the Commissioners voted unanimously to reduce GELD's Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) to the town from $30K to $15K in order to recoup what they believe is an "enormous amount of expenses due to inefficiencies that was incurred by GELD" in their quest to get the necessary permits to construct their new building on Station Avenue.
A 'PILOT'- Payment in Lieu of Taxes - is a voluntary payment on the part of GELD and other tax exempt entities, such as private institutions and is generally an annual contribution.
Lindemer estimated that there were at least $151K in additional, unexpected costs that GELD had to pay just to get through the permitting process in the town.
"Our attorney advised us that the standard permit fee is $4K each and we paid 10 times that. There has to be some accountability here. We are going to recoup some of our losses. We can't recoup it all, but what we went through is not right. Look at how developers are treated. We are making a statement to recoup some of our money for our ratepayers."
Selectman Chairman Peter Cunningham told Lindemer, "It is the same process that everyone else has to go through."
Lindemer said, "We had a choice where to build. We could have done it on our current site with no architectural additions. We also could have gone through the Department of Public Utilities that would override all the town bylaws." He added, "The process to get a permit is an enormous cost. Some people are concerned that if they complain too much they might not get a permit."
He said that GELD Commissioners, believing that they were helping the town, purchased abutting land from a private owner so that they could locate their new building farther up Station Avenue from its existing site, closer to Main Street. This was done in support of a request from the town to free up the land along the Rail Trail so that the Station Avenue Overlay District could become a mixed use residential/commercial area. GELD also completed a 21E, Brownfield cleanup of any contaminants on their site in anticipation of this new use.
The Commissioners indicated that, although this is not cast in concrete, they would vote annually on whether or not to reduce the PILOT payment, while attempting to recoup at least the additional $151K they had to pay to get through the permitting process.
Selectman Anna Eliot told Lindemer to "stop whining and to suck it up. The process is painful. You didn't have to build there."
Lindemer replied, "If you interpret this as whining, I am sorry you feel that way. This is about dollars and cents and inefficiency. We have a resource (PILOT) and we are taking advantage of it" to recover some of the money.
Selectman Josh Degen suggested the action by GELD was "punitive" and that if GELD and the town get into an issue it could result in a "p***ing contest," and echoed Eliot's comment to 'suck it up'. He noted that the town does the payroll for GELD and that they could be charged for this service. He then asked Town Accountant Patricia Dufresne to put together a list and the cost of what the town does for GELD.
Selectman Jack Petropoulos encouraged his colleagues not to get personal and to try to work this issue out with GELD. "I am supportive of GELD and I support their mission to look out for their ratepayers."
Town Manager Mark Haddad told the Board that the town spent $650K for the permitting for the new Center Fire Station, "We asked the Water and Sewer Departments and they would not waive their fees." Lindemer replied, "Do you think that $650K is reasonable? I want someone to take accountability for this."
Cunningham told the GELD Commissioners, "You are punishing us. If you did it right in the first place, it would have been less expensive." Lindemer countered that the existing town bylaws were not interpreted correctly. Cunningham suggested that this "reflects an arrogant attitude." Lindemer retorted,, "Looking out for my ratepayers is not arrogant."
Following this exchange, Lindemer made it clear that GELD will voluntarily pay $15K as payment in lieu of taxes for this year, not the usual $30K. "We are only asking for accountability," he said.
In April, GELD Commissioners voted to provide a $100K grant to the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District when they heard that the district had a need for substantial technology infrastructure improvements.