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Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee Discuss FY2015 Budget Cuts

The Town Manager, Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee continue to discuss up to a half million dollar cut from the municipal side of the budget following errors in the 2009 Groton Dunstable Regional School District budget that, as it carried forward, is causing a projected $2.7M shortfall. Town Manager Mark Haddad along with his department heads, and each member of the Finance Committee combed the town's FY2015 budget, making recommendations of areas that could be cut and/or eliminated.

Not surprisingly, there were some areas of majority agreement; elimination of the Massachusetts Mosquito Control Project, not replacing the vacant Human Resource Director Position, elimination of the new Dispatcher position, elimination of a new Library position and temp position, elimination of the opening of Sargisson Beach, commensurate reduction in health care due to the elimination of new hires and reduction of the Capital Budget.

However, the list of potential cuts contained 47 entries and involved suggestions for reduction in personnel in the Board of Assessors office, the Zoning Board of Appeals, Building Inspection Department, Information Technology. Cuts in salary/wages included the Fire Department, Police Department, Solid Waste overtime, and the Town Clerk.

Fin Com Chairman Jay Prager pointed out that of the 47 entries on the combined list; there were 15 that dealt with wages and salaries. He stressed that there is a fair amount of agreement regarding the elimination of the Human Resource Director position. Haddad stressed that this change would put additional burden of several existing employees that would have to divide the responsibility of the job. Prager suggested exploring filling this on a part time basis or a sharing of this function with another town and Haddad replied when it brought up, other towns weren't interested. Haddad said that in a potential combination position, the HR Director could possibly take on some payroll responsibilities. Fin Com member Bud Robertson suggested looking at contracting for HR services, perhaps three days a week, as long as there was consistency using the same person, noting that it worked in private industry.

In the area of Police wages, Haddad advised that there is already a $50K reduction that sets back the Department's work, especially shift coverage. Fin Com member Steve Webber noted that the PD budget is complicated and require some administrative support.

Fin Com member David Manugian said that his "analysis concerns the (Police Dept.) overtime, dividing up the vacation/personal/sick time" and said that "every day there are two to three personnel that are out. Every day averages someone sick. Everyone works 50 hours. If two to three people are out every day, without overtime to cover" and suggested that there may be a need for an additional police officer. He commented that when people are out sick it is not safe, adding that this is one sixth of the payroll for the Police Department and he wants a closer look at the payroll. He also said that he "ran the numbers and theoretically could save $60 to $80K by not filling shifts."

Colleague Bob Hargraves pointed out that the Town Manager needs to work with the Chief. "I look at it as out of control. I worked in schools and the absenteeism was out of control."

Selectman Josh Degen added that on the current PD schedule, there needs to be a closer look at scheduled shifts to save money and concurred with the need for better management.

Haddad advised that these budget issues are happening in communities all over the state and pointed out that Westford is already at 70 percent of their budget. He stressed that the Police Chief feels that it is necessary to have three or four officers on a shift.

Hargraves said, "The issue is backfilling. I see it as out of control. People are already tired. I want to really push this backfilling component." Robertson asked who would backfill and Prager replied," Don't backfill."

Webber suggested deeper cuts to the Fire Department, "eliminate the fulltime firefighters and fill (the positions) with per diems. He related an incident where he had to call the ambulance at night and all the five responders were call members, adding "There was no fulltime firefighter there."

Prager pointed out that this department had the same issue with sick time and training. "How many fulltime firefighters do we need?" he asked.

Lt. Tyler Schute, a fulltime firefighter told the officials that on Friday night,"We couldn't man an ambulance," for a call at 10:30 p.m. and "Pepperell made the transport. It was an elongated response time."

Haddad suggested that the Fin Com hold off on any decisions until after they meet with the Police and Fire Chiefs on the nest Saturday.

As far as proposed cuts to the Library, Trustee Mark Gerath told the Fin Com that the library budget "maintains current services" and asked to keep the flexibility of the temporary staff. He pointed out that the Library is closed to the public on Mondays, but that the Director, Custodian and program assistant are there, adding that the Director had "driven down the number "of employees in the library on Mondays.

Gerath defended the Library's open hours, noting that by 10 a.m. there are people with strollers waiting for the building to open. "We have demand. We have thought of ways to be more efficient that won't be impactful," he said, adding that cutting hours is not yet committed, and wanting to "avoid union demand that says we have to cut part timers first."

Assessor Rena Swezey advised that if her office were to lose a position, they would utilize the Senior Work Program, adding that so much is now online for realtors, that most of the foot traffic is for excise tax issues, she said that she and the Assistant Assessor could cover the work.

The proposed cut in the IT department for a part time position would have some impact as there are plans to make more information available on the town website.

Other cuts proposed for the ZBA Administrator and part time Building Inspector were also addressed as necessary functions for the Land Use Department.

The next joint Fin Com and Board of Selectmen meeting is scheduled for Saturday, Feb 22 at 9 the Selectmen's Room on the first floor of Town Hall.

Groton Herald

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P.O. Box 610, Groton, Massachusetts 01450

145 Main Street, Groton, Massachusetts 014510
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