Groton city's budget intent: 'We want to preserve what we have'

Groton - Mayor Marian Galbraith has proposed a $16.9 million city budget for fiscal year 2013-14, something finance Director Michael Hillsberg calls a "continuation budget."

"We're not expanding services, but we want to preserve what we have," Hillsberg said.

The spending plan, which is a slight drop from the current budget, will maintain the current tax rate of 4.595 mills for city residents.

The budget proposal, presented to the City Council on April 1, calls for general government spending of $2.09 million, a slight increase from the $2.01 million approved for the current budget. Galbraith has requested slightly less for both the police and fire departments.

The total public safety spending proposal is $7.32 million - $4.74 million for police and $2.57 million for fire. The police department has dropped a detective position through attrition.

Proposed spending for the Public Works Department, at $4.9 million, is also down, in part due to bonding for road repairs approved by voters in November. Galbraith said the city also was able to save money on road salt and has requested less for replacement of vehicles.

More money is budgeted to pay for debt service, with bonds expected to be issued for municipal and utility projects approved early in 2012. There was $766,608 set aside in the current budget and $1.06 million proposed for the upcoming fiscal year.

While the city's bond rating had dipped because of continuing losses being sustained by municipally owned Thames Valley Communications, Hillsberg said the sale of TVC earlier this year has helped the city in the eyes of one bond rating agency.

Just last month, Hillsberg said Moody's upped the city's bond rating from AA3 with a negative outlook to AA3 with a stable outlook.

"We're improving, and our goal is to get back to AA2," Hillsberg said.

Galbraith said the city has also in the past several years reduced its dependency on the fund balance to curb tax rate hikes. Her budget calls for use of $675,000 versus $696,000 in the current budget and more than $1 million in years prior.

One of the few increases in the proposed budget is for the Parks and Recreation Department, where the budget has increased by $32,009, to nearly $1.3 million.

Galbraith said the increase will help accommodate the continuing influx of children to summer programs run by the city at West Side Middle School and Washington Park.

The council, according to new rules under the charter revision passed last year, will vote on the budget May 20. The public will have an opportunity to vote on the proposal at the annual budget meeting scheduled for June 3.

g.smith@theday.com

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