Groton implements hiring freeze, spending restrictions due to state aid uncertainty

Groton — The town has implemented a hiring freeze and other spending restrictions due to uncertainty about an expected reduction in state aid.

The council passed a resolution on Aug. 8 to freeze all vacant positions until they are reviewed. Any hirings would have to be approved by the Town Council. Town Manager John Burt had already moved forward with the council’s recommended change before the official action.

As of Monday, Groton will be 52 days into the 2018 fiscal year without word on how much money it will receive in state aid. The state still has not adopted a budget for the current fiscal year and there will not be one until the legislature holds a special session.

The town’s adopted budget assumed a $5 million loss in state funding, but if the state cuts more from Groton’s aid, town leaders said it would be harder to find savings the longer the fiscal year goes on.

“It’s such an unknown where we’re at with the state budget so we have to scrutinize every dollar that’s being spent,” Mayor Bruce Flax said. “If we were cut substantially like in the proposed governor’s budget, that’s $13 million you have to find.”

The hiring review process requires department heads to submit a request to the director of human resources before filling a job. The director would then review the position and make a recommendation to the town manager, who would then forward his recommendation to the Town Council. The council would have to approve filling the position.

Groton employs about 250 people and has one open position in the parks department, Burt said. The position has not yet been brought to him for review.

Burt has also put spending restrictions in place and met with department heads to discuss the protocol. The restrictions cover areas including overtime, professional services, legal services, professional development and equipment, furniture and supplies. Burt would be in charge of reviewing requests for the spending and determining whether it’s permissible.

His review would question spending on several levels. For example, the town doesn’t want to deny training that would cause employees to lose certifications, but it’s also reviewing whether each certification is really necessary for various employees to do their jobs.

Burt commended the council for its approach.

“It is difficult since the town has already cut substantially,” he wrote in an email. “Further cuts would likely mean cutting services.”

The hiring freeze would remain in place until the end of the fiscal year or until the town council passes a resolution lifting it. Burt plans to keep spending restrictions in place until the state passes a budget and he learns more about Groton's budget.  He would then decide how to proceed, he said. Burt took over as town manager a little more than five weeks ago.

"We are doing everything in our power to stop spending money and still run a town," Councilor Diane Barber said last week.

Although the town cut spending $5 million, the council could still face the question of whether to send out supplemental tax bills depending on the size of the state cut, she said.

"That would be a travesty," she said.




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