Give Groton town voters power over the purse

In his May 18 column, "Government by the people, as long as they bother," Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere described low voter turnouts in recent budget referendums in the area. While I appreciate and share his concern regarding voter apathy in the region, I am envious that in places like Preston, Griswold, Chester, Deep River and Essex the voters have the opportunity to have a say at referendum as to how their hard-earned tax dollars are spent.

In Groton the taxpayers have no such say. The Board of Education, Town Council and RTM increase spending every year.

This year there was an unexpected revenue "windfall" and spending is again increasing.

Preston has the right idea with three separate votes - one for the Board of Education budget, a second for town operations and a third for capital improvement projects. That way, there is no uncertainty as to what the voters want.

The entrenched Groton Democratic and Republican power structure will seemingly never be challenged as both parties appear to work for the same town manager. Neither seems interested in giving residents the chance to approve or reject the budget at referedum. These spendaholics don't want anyone challenging the status quo.

The hypocrisy both political parties display in resisting any effort to move toward a budget referendum is staggering. On the one hand they fiercely fight against a budget referendum, and in the next breath they insist that they must "let the voters decide" on bonding for specific spending projects by way of referendums.

Groton's budget process is dysfunctional and a charter revision is in order. Needed is a budget referendum as in Preston, with the opportunity for Groton voters to decide. Also desperately needed in Groton are term limits for all elected and appointed positions.

Unfortunately, we all know that the status-quo power structure will never allow anyone with alternative views on a charter reform committee.

Term limits are necessary to force 20- and even 30-year politicians and appointees to step aside. The fact that there are people who have been on the Board of Education, Town Council, RTM and some commissions for two and three decades makes the case that there is no fresh perspective in the town.

The budget process is ineffective. The town manager and Board of Education direct the budget process with spending increases year after year. Both parties rubber stamp the town manager and Board of Education budgets, thereby protecting the tax-and-spend mentality.

There are some encouraging signs. When Groton voters have an opportunity to vote on capital spending items, they draw lines. In the 2013 referendums, Groton voters voted against spending and raising taxes. The Phase II School Project was easily defeated, with one district opposed 5 to 1.

Perhaps in the future, Groton voters will demand the opportunity to have a say as to how their tax dollars are spent. But for now, business as usual reigns in Groton.

Rosanne Kotowski is the co-founder of the political action committee Groton Advocates for Tax Efficiency.


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