GROTON -- Unveiling his budget for fiscal 2014, Town Manager Mark Haddad expressed satisfaction that proposed spending maintains the same level of services as 2013 without putting undue strain on revenue sources.
"I'm very proud of the municipal budget we've put forward this year," said Haddad.
The town manager made his comments at a joint meeting of the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee held Jan. 7, at which he characterized the budget as a "needs budget" that concentrates on areas that will improve services.
Reminding those present at the meeting that the fiscal 2014 budget would be the fifth one he has presented to the town, Haddad proceeded to congratulate individual departments in their successful efforts to maintain services without the need for major increases in spending.
However, despite managing to hold revenue collection below the full levy limit as allowed by law, the town manager cautioned that an anticipated 11 percent cut in state aid in 2014 would place an added burden on local taxpayers.
Easing the pressure though, will be a combination of factors, including the costs of health and pension plans that are expected to hold steady, revenue raised by 2.5 percent as allowed by law, and modest new growth.
Health insurance rates and pension expenses in particular, said Haddad, "continue to be really good."
Other revenue sources, including remaining state aid, motor vehicle excise taxes, and other funds are expected
So confident did the town manager feel about his proposed budget that he asked officials present at the Jan. 7 meeting to support his request for new positions to be created next year, including a full-time dispatcher for the Police and Fire departments, and one more technician in support of the town's information technology services.
Also affecting the new bottom line will be a two percent salary increase for all of the town's public unions, which will be entering the second of their three-year agreements. With the same deal to be offered to nonunion employees, the impact on the budget will come to $112,845.
In addition, a new employee incentive program is expected to cost an extra $44,759.
Excluding the School Department, which takes up 54 percent of the town's total budget, municipal spending alone will come to $12,455,750 in 2014, an increase over 2013 of 7.83 percent.
As for the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District and the Nashoba Valley Technical School District, final budgets for 2014 have yet to be submitted.
To pay for municipal expenses as well as for as yet unknown school spending, a tax rate of $17.26 per thousand of valuation for property owners is recommended, with taxes rising on an average homeowner from $6,740 to $6,904.
Thus, as the town's budget for fiscal 2014 stands, the bottom line is an estimated $29,105,500.
That figure could rise by $100,000 however, should a proposal by Haddad to create an account intended to help pay for Groton's unfunded post-employment benefits for retired employees go through.
In light of the growing crisis of unfunded liabilities surrounding public employees, and anticipating that the state or federal governments will eventually require towns to begin setting aside money to cover such expenses, Haddad advised the creation of a stabilization fund that would be added to every year till 2018.
Currently, Groton's unfunded liability comes to $7,150,656.
But selectmen were wary of committing money for a contingency that might never arrive.
"I am 100 percent against this," declared board member Joshua Degen, adding that he preferred simply waiting until state or federal law required it be done.
In response, Haddad again urged looking ahead but also told selectmen that companies who rate towns for municipal bonds look more favorably on municipalities that have such accounts. The importance of the issue, insisted the town manager, behooved the town to begin its planning as soon as possible.
But with the press of time and an issue that obviously demanded more review by the board, selectmen chose to continue discussion of that aspect of the budget until a future meeting.