GROTON -- Seeking to make local government more responsive to ordinary people, he said, Main Street resident Shane Grant has chosen to throw his hat into the ring and run for a seat on the Board of Selectmen.
"I actually decided to run for the Board of Selectmen after a friend of mine became involved with an issue with the town that was made harder because he had little understanding about how it worked," explained Grant. "I've gone to a lot of meetings and found how badly out of touch people in town were about what goes on around them and at Town Hall in particular. I think that people deserve someone to represent them on the board who will be accommodating and who could be a set of eyes and ears for them and reporting back in layman's terms how things can be made better."
A Groton native who moved away for a time, Grant is employed in construction and sales and has never held public office before.
"I want to get the townspeople more active in local government," Grant said. "Right now, you go to town meeting and 200 people show up out of a town of 11,000 people. But town meeting itself is not really conducive to those who don't know much about the warrant articles before getting there. I'd like to be a conduit for people answering their questions honestly and openly."
If elected, among the first challenges Grant is likely to confront is that of school spending, which became more complicated in recent months when an accounting error left the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District's books out of balance by millions of dollars.
As a result, the schools found themselves with a $2.7 million shortfall for 2015.
And while that amount has since been whittled down by cuts in spending and a plan by the town to raise the remainder, the cost of education in coming years will remain a challenge both for local politicians and taxpayers.
"I really don't have enough information to make a decision on that," said Grant. "I watch the School Committee and Board of Selectmen's meetings and still don't have all the information I need to hold an educated opinion on anything. But I do find the situation appalling because if anyone ran their household budgets that way, they'd be destitute and homeless!"
A plan by town manager Mark Haddad to raise money for the schools, since approved by residents at the polls, is to pay for the new Center Fire Station through a debt exclusion rather than from unexpended funds in the town's levy limit.
"I'm not comfortable with the debt exclusion plan at all," said Grant. "My understanding of what the debt exclusion does is that it triggers the mechanism for Proposition 2 1/2 raising taxes. Quite frankly, people don't really get that point because it's not explained to them. People like the Town Clerk are trying but sometimes things have the appearance of being done in backrooms where people aren't aware of what's going on. On television, town manager Mark Haddad seems to be running the show and seems to want selectmen to ratify decisions he's already made. It seems to me that it should be the selectmen who make the decisions and authorizing the town manager to carry them out."
"From what I can see, we can make better decisions and judgments about spending," said Grant. "You can throw a bunch of money out there for snow removal but living in New England you have to be realistic about it. You can't say you didn't anticipate this or that. When you have easy years you have to adjust the budget accordingly while keeping in mind that next year might not be so easy. Otherwise it's just poor planning."
But the key to municipal budgeting is revenue and to get it, the tax base must be expanded. To that end, town officials have continued to try and promote growth in town particularly along Route 119.
"Once again it's a parking issue," said Grant. "Main Street is atrocious when it comes to traffic. Whenever I'm there, I can't find a place to park. I have to wait five minutes to get out onto the street in the morning. There's just no parking.
"The question about commercial development is where to put it," concluded Grant. "You can't put it in the center of town. There are large parcels in town available for business development but they're limited. Groton is a residential town. That's what it was designed as."
The candidate was more enthusiastic about the development possibilities of the Four Corners.
"More should be done to get business down at the Four Corners," said Grant. "A great way to have done that would have been to get sewer service down from Lost Lake. ...It seems a no-brainer to bring it from Lost Lake at the same time. I know that'll be a big project, but the contamination problem at the lake is not going to go away. It's only going to get worse. To solve the problem, we must be proactive and not reactive."
The same approach could work with disused public buildings such as Squannacook Hall and the Prescott School, which the town has moved to sell to those like developer Halsey Platt.
"He wants the town to pay for a septic system and then not pay taxes on the property for five years," said Grant of Platt. "I think that's absurd. ...I don't understand how you can sell these properties for $1,000 while in the financial situation we're in. ...It does nothing for the town. Nothing."
Grant suggested that the town keep Squannacook Hall and turn it into a youth center.
"You don't have to pull money out of the town budget for a youth center," insisted Grant. "It can come from private sources who would be supportive of a project like that."
Similarly, the candidate preferred a more deliberate approach to the disposition of the former Prescott School. Grant prefers to see the historic structure remain in public hands.
"The Prescott School building should not be developed by a private entity," declared Grant. "If we let it go, we'll never get it back again.
"Back 30 or 40 years ago, there used to be youth centers but this town doesn't even have one any more," he said. "I find it appalling that we don't have a place safe for our kids to go in this community. When I was a kid, we all knew each other. There should be a central hub where kids can travel to and be safe and have fun. Otherwise, they're at home on the computer or playing computer games when they should be out in a social environment where they can find mentors to help them grow and develop."
Looking forward to Election Day, scheduled for May 20, the candidate hoped that by winning a seat on the Board of Selectmen, he would be providing the ordinary citizen with a sure presence in municipal matters.
"My idea is to get in there and make myself available to people," said Grant. ""I want to ask questions and get answers so we can help each other. Peter Cunningham has been in office for six terms. He had a good crack at it and if he hasn't done what he set out to do by now, he's not going to get it done. I believe in term limits. To be a selectmen is to be a public servant. It's not an entitlement."