Published April 11. 2013 4:00AM
Groton - Cuts to the City and Groton Long Point budgets again this year have led to arguments over what the town is obligated to provide versus what it is willing to provide in funding for its political subdivisions.
The Town Council Tuesday raised the ire of city officials by voting to cut both the city's road maintenance and police funding requests. Additionally, the council entirely cut Groton Long Point's $334,100 request for police services while fully funding its $270,500 highway maintenance request.
The town has historically funded 50 percent of the city and Groton Long Point police budgets, minus the chief's salary. That has changed in recent years as the Town Council and Representative Town Meeting grapple with declining revenues.
On Tuesday, the council cut more than 10 percent from the city's request for police, voting 6-3 to trim City Mayor Marian Galbraith's $2.3 million request to $2.06 million. Overall, the city had planned to spend $4.75 million for police. The town has budgeted $6.68 million for public safety.
Councilor Bruce Flax, who called the city's police force disproportionate compared to the town's, said this year the council would be subtracting the town's share of dispatch services and retirement benefits, plus another 10 percent.
"We're trying to do what I think is best for the entire town, including the city," Flax said.
Flax said while other towns regionalize services, Groton and its subdivision continue duplicate to police and public works services.
"It's incredibly irresponsible to say you want to cut our dispatch without any alternative in mind," Galbraith said Wednesday. "It severely undermines the public safety of the residents of Groton."
City Police Chief Thomas Davoren called the cuts arbitrary and punitive.
"We're giving you a number we can actually afford to pay," Somers said at Tuesday's meeting. "In our opinion it's not punitive."
Councilor Dean Antipas said if the city planned to provide dispatch services, "It's going to be up to you to find the money."
Additionally, the council cut the city's request for road maintenance by 16 percent, cutting $342,000 from Galbraith's $2.09 million request, leaving the city with $1.75 million.
The town, by charter, funds the entire road maintenance portion of the city's public works budget. But some councilors, as they have in past years, wondered where to draw the line.
Councilor Karen Morton was blunt during Tuesday's discussions, saying she did not think snow removal, vehicle purchases or engineering should be part of the expenses.
Councilor Jim Streeter, who is challenging Galbraith at the upcoming mayoral election, was one of three council members to vote against the measure. He promised a legal battle between the town and city since the funding is written into the charter. "We go through this battle every year and personally, I've had enough," Streeter said.
Streeter questioned the equality of the council's cuts considering no changes were made to the town's police budget. Streeter said he also thinks the city should challenge the cuts in court so "we can ultimately receive a definitive legal ruling one way or the other about the funding made by the Town towards the city's highway and police budgets."
Galbraith echoed the sentiment, saying the charter allows that if there is disagreement over the highway funding, it could go to mediation with the state Department of Transportation.
Galbraith said she would take the news of the cuts to the City Council to figure out their next move and how to compensate for the lost revenue. "We will have to look at whether we cut (the budget) or raise taxes," Galbraith said. "I'm very disappointed they have targeted the residents of the city of Groton to cut a budget."
Groton Town Manager Mark Oefinger this year proposed a $121.6 million budget for fiscal year 2013-14, a 0.6 percent increase that because of a drop in revenues would lead to a tax rate increase, from 20.22 mills to 21.31 mills.
Further budget discussions continue Thursday between the Town Council and Board of Education, which has proposed a $73.66 million budget, $1.02 million more than this year.