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Groton's Dream Machine and the Overrides Ahead

When contemplating buying a new family car, every family member has their heart's desire, one perhaps yearning for a powerful engine and sporty styling, the other wanting extra seating for children, the kids dreaming of individual video screens and ports for their ipods, everyone imagining their own personal dream machine. But, after an interlude of fantasizing, budget reality trims fantasy down to size, down to a real vehicle with a realistic price, one the family can actually afford.

If paying for a new fire station can be compared to buying a family vehicle, Groton is still stuck in the fantasy stage, imagining a dream machine, one with comforts and features like a high-end Mercedes, when a utilitarian Ford F-150 truck would be just fine, and maybe even a smarter choice.

Selectmen are working to keep funding for the new fire station 'under the levy limit', the levy limit being the taxing authority allowable under state law, any additional taxing capacity requiring an override vote. In our view, using the totality of the town's additional taxing capacity for fire station construction is poor financial planning, especially in view of other necessities needing funding. Just because the fire station is first in line to be considered, does it mean it should receive the totality of levy-limit funding?

By maxing out the levy limit, we risk leaving other obligations unaddressed, obligations such as the $7.5 million unfunded liability for town employee post-retirement benefits, and the Lost Lake sewerage system. If we fund the fire station right up to the levy limit, the only way we will be able to finance additional expenditures will be through a tax override. Is this prudent?

Given the current state of the economy, given the sentiments of many voters, and given other looming financial obligations, it might be better for Selectmen to consider appointing an alternative Fire Station Committee, a sort of 'skunk works', a group of residents charged with starting with a clean slate of assumptions, a chance to rethink the basic needs for new Fire Department construction, evaluating whether it might be feasible to develop a Ford truck alternative to the high-end SUV fire station currently being designed. If a more modest construction solution were built for say, $5 million, the town would have approximately $2.5 million of additional taxing capacity for other obligations, thus eliminating the likelihood of tax overrides in the near future.

Because of tough economic times, the likelihood of voters approving an override is vanishingly small, thus leaving important commitments, like starting to pay the $7.5 million unfunded debt for post-retirement health benefits; helping Lost Lake residents with sewage treatment funding; and other unanticipated expenses, dependent solely on override funding.

Don't we, as a town, have a responsibility to consider new fire station construction in light of all our financial obligations? Isn't it fair and reasonable to evaluate funding for the fire station in light of all the town's financial obligations and liabilities? Isn't it possible that a Ford would transport us to the same place just as well as a Mercedes, but at lower cost?

Groton Herald

Mailing Address
P.O. Box 610, Groton, Massachusetts 01450

145 Main Street, Groton, Massachusetts 014510
[Prescott Community Center]

Telephone: 978-448-6061

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