Groton residents speak out about town needs, spending at public hearing on budget

Groton - Amber Haugeto said she expected to pay taxes when she bought a house in Groton.

She didn't expect to be sitting around a table with 20 other parents trying to figure out how to buy glue sticks and Purell, while water leaked from the school roof into a bucket, she told a public hearing on the budget Thursday.

"I personally am doing what I can," she said. "I am spending my money. I am volunteering. ... What I cannot do is I cannot crawl up on that roof and fix that leaking roof."

Haugeto was one of about a dozen residents who spoke at a hearing on the proposed $122.84 million budget for the coming fiscal year, an increase of about 2.4 percent over current spending.

The budget includes $75.1 million for education, an increase of 1.9 percent. The school budget would maintain class sizes, increase classroom supplies and continue academic, sports and extracurricular programs.

The town budget proposal would hold the tax rate steady at 20.72 mills, or $2,072 in local property taxes for every $100,000 of assessed value.

Town Manager Mark Oefinger told the audience early in the hearing that Groton saw an unexpected increase in revenue and should hold 8 percent in reserve and set $3.6 million to offset future tax losses resulting from Pfizer Inc.'s decision to demolish its former research headquarters. The biggest losses would hit starting in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

But Rosanne Kotowski, co-founder of the political action committee Groton Advocates for Tax Efficiency, said the budget didn't cut spending enough. She said it includes jobs that have been vacant for months, a 2 percent salary increase for non-union employees and benefits such as life insurance policies of $100,000.

"Is that reasonable?" she asked.

Kotowski said taxpayers hear every year that revenues are down so taxes must rise. If revenues are up, she said they should fall.

"Why does the town bureaucracy receive the revenue windfall instead of the taxpayers?" she said.

Others focused on education, urging the Town Council to support Superintendent Michael Graner's $75.1 million request as proposed.

"We are still educating 5,000 children," said Beth Horler, president of the Groton Education Association, which represents 445 teachers.

Connie Readett of Mystic said the schools already suffered cuts last year, including loss of the third-grade strings program.

Deborah Johnson of Mystic, chairwoman of the Groton Parent Council, said she was speaking as the concerned parent of a junior and soon-to-be high school freshman.

"I feel this budget is a balance between what our students need and what is affordable," she said.

Two residents also spoke in support of $188,000 in funding for the Mystic & Noank Library.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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