Reduced Groton town budget could go to RTM next week

Groton - A month's worth of chiseling by the Town Council has reduced the town manager's proposed $121.6 million budget by about $1.8 million and reduced the potential tax rate hike.

Adjustments up or down are still possible, but the council on Tuesday could decide to move a number to the Representative Town Meeting, members of which are simultaneously reviewing the budget and will ultimately vote on their own number.

The council's proposed budget to date is $119.76 million for fiscal year 2013-14, which represents a 0.9 percent, or $1.13 million, decrease from the current budget. Presented as is, it would raise the tax rate by 0.57 mills versus the town manager's proposed 1.09-mill hike.

Town Mayor Heather Bond Somers said this year's budget review has been tough and at times confrontational as the council looks for areas of savings in a year of slumping revenues.

The subdivisions have borne the brunt of some of the more major cuts, including $476,549 from the city's $4.5 million request for funding toward police services and highway maintenance.

Somers said the council continues to nudge the city toward a more townwide view of services and looks to avoid any duplication. For example, Somers said the town's emergency dispatch, which forwards calls to the city, could handle dispatch for both. It was one of the major areas considered in the city's cuts, she said.

"We have to look more at the global view ... the 40,000 people who live in town and not individual sections," Somers said. "There's clearly duplication of services the town should not be paying for."

City Mayor Marian Galbraith has vehemently argued against city cuts.

The council made similar cuts to Groton Long Point's request, including elimination of the subdivision's $334,000 police funding request.

Both the city and Groton Long Point typically request about half of their police budgets. Somers and other councilors said the town police department is prepared to cover Groton Long Point.

"There is a lot of conversation about what's fair for the entire town," Somers said. "Both of these subdivisions have the right to have their own police force, but under the town charter, there is nothing written that says the town is obligated to fund that."

The council has also made other proposed cuts, such as $25,000 in library funding, $18,000 for ambulances services and more than $100,000 from the town's public works department, according to budget figures provided by Town Manager Mark Oefinger.

And while the council did not touch the school board's $73.6 million budget, the consensus of the council is the school board has had to make its own tough decisions, millions in cuts leading to the proposes loss of 50 paraprofessionals and elimination of about a dozen staff positions.

"The money is just not there anymore, and next year is only going to be worse," Somers said. "It's been a tough budget season for us. It's very emotional. None of these cuts we are making are made lightly. We feel like we have to make choices to keep taxes down. It's not a pleasant experience and not something we enjoy. I think it weighs heavy on everybody."


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