GROTON -- If Joshua Degen were to characterize the responsibilities of being a member of the Board of Selectmen, it could be summarized thusly: "A selectmen's work is never done."
For that reason, he said, he felt compelled to run for a third full term on the board, a fourth term if one chooses to count his first, when he ran to fill out the term of former selectmen Win Nordblom in 2006.
"I'm satisfied with what I've accomplished so far on the board, but there's always room for improvement," said Degen of his decision to seek another term in office. "I believe that I'm helping to make a difference collectively with the other selectmen and working with the town manager. I think that while I got a lot of things accomplished over the last six years, there's still a lot of new issues to be broached and, if elected, I will try to tackle them.
"My first goal is to try and win the election," said Degen, a resident of Martins Pond Road. "After that, there are a number of things that I'd like to address not necessarily in the following order. Obviously, helping the town manager in the process of building of new Center Fire Station is a given as well as the revitalization and reuse of the Prescott School -- that is also very high on my list.
"But while I would like to see Prescott revitalized, I beg to differ with the Reuse Committee on what is to be done with the building," said Degen of the committee's suggestion that the structure be turned into a bed and breakfast. "I'm not leaning that way. With commercial space being offered at the 134 Main St. project across the street, we have a unique opportunity to create some more office/condo space on the upper floor at Prescott and retail space on the first floor. I think that would be a very good mixed use with businesses opening across the street. It's an opportunity to stimulate the economy of the town.
"I would also like to see the Country Club revisited," continued Degen. "I'd like to see it become more open to the public at large because right now 98 percent of the taxpayers in town are subsidizing 2 percent of residents that utilize the facility. There's not a lot of equity in that. The 2 percent of those that are getting subsidized are riding on the backs of the rest of the taxpayers. I would like to see the Recreation Department reinvigorated, and the Country Club is the perfect place to do that. If we could offer recreation opportunities up there that would help introduce people to the Country Club and get them to join that would be great, but we need to offer the kind of recreation opportunities for adults that don't currently exist in Groton. Right now, people go to Nashua and Lowell to participate in things. Outside of student-related activities, there's not a lot of adult recreational opportunities in town, and it's time to offer things like that at the Country Club. There could be a number of things out there that adults would be interested in like tennis lessons, yoga classes or Zumba, or even bingo."
Another issue tangential to the Country Club is access to public swimming accommodations around town.
"Recently at Town Meeting, we just approved an appropriation for herbicide treatment for Lost Lake to eradicate the weeds," noted Degen. "In 2014, I would like to see Sargisson Beach reopened because, right now, pool membership at the Country Club is very expensive. Whereas we have a natural resource in town that's closed because of weeds. I'd like to see us reopen the beach because it's an inexpensive, wonderful resource for all residents."
But to accomplish many of the candidate's goals, funding will have to be taken into consideration. Degen, however, feels that Groton is on sound financial footing.
"The town is in excellent fiscal condition," Degen observed. "The town manager, with the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen, has been able to expand services to residents. That doesn't mean that it's cheap to live in Groton. Taxes are fairly high but we live in a wonderful, beautiful community that is well managed overall. That said, you always want to take a look at all line items in the budget to make sure that as times change, we continue to have the things we need and eliminate those that don't need to be there. We have to make sure that we retain the core services that a growing town needs. In a growing community, there are growing demands and technology is one that we're all dependent on. Because of that, the town's technology budget has to grow because we're all very dependent on that in order to facilitate everyone's life. We have not kept up with it."
The need for updating technology has also figured in the school district, whose administration currently is mulling over a request for an extra appropriation of $800,000 over and above its regular operating budget.
"In our schools, we are so far behind the curve technology wise," lamented Degen. "Technology needs to be available there both for the facilities and for the children so that they can learn effectively for the 21st century.
"I've been very impressed with the former superintendent as well as the current interim superintendent, who were able to bring in a level-funded budget for the past three years," added Degen. "But obviously as time goes on, costs will increase, and I think the increase this year from my reading of the budget is that it's appropriate. The district really does want to improve its technology and is seeking a substantial amount of money for that, and I'm inclined to support it."
Responding to questions regarding the role that the Lost Lake Fire Station will play now that plans to build a new Center Fire Station are moving ahead, the candidate was unapologetic.
"The Lost Lake station is a substation, not a Center Fire Station," insisted Degen.
Degen said the Fire Department depends on volunteers so there are no personnel stationed at the Lost Lake facility on a permanent basis. When there is a fire emergency, the response of the department is "dysfunctional" because the EMS service is located at the Public Safety Building while the fire trucks are stored on Station Avenue.
"The building at Lost Lake was never built as a fire station so looking at it, it appears to be underutilized," said Degen. "But I think it's wonderful that the Police Department is using the space there to get into the community."
Also of concern to residents at Lost Lake is the dormant but still alive question of bringing wastewater services to the neighborhood.
"That's still something that I support," said Degen. "But we have to make sure that a Lost Lake Sewer District as proposed is really needed. If the Lost Lake Sewer Commission brings in additional facts and there is a need, I will support it. If the facts don't indicate there is a need, I will no longer support it. If a sewer system is pursued, however, the cost needs to be shared differently than it has been. We'll have to come up with a scenario where the town would have to participate to a higher financial degree than previously. And in the event that we don't get the facts to support a sewer system going in there, then alternative systems will have to looked at for homeowners in the area. And additionally, if we don't establish a sewer district, then we should talk to Ayer in terms of putting in a sewer system that would support the Four Corners area without Lost Lake. That way, it opens it up to economic development."
Related to the Lost Lake sewer issue is the fate of Four Corners commercial development.
"I would love to see the Four Corners built out, but in this economy, it's been very difficult to get tenants in," said Degen. "But according to the president, the economy is turning around, so we should try to convince developers to move into Groton, although lack of sewer services there limits investment."
Finally, near and dear to the candidate's heart is the town's system of citizen participation in local government.
"I'm still a firm believer in Town Meeting and think that they are pure democracy at its best," said Degen. "That said, we have formed a Town Meeting Study Committee to make recommendations to selectmen, and I look forward to hearing what alternatives that might exist to get more participation in local government. I'm woefully sad at voter participation at Town Meeting. We're lucky to get three percent of voters to show up. I don't feel that's an accurate representation of residents. There is a disconnect among voters that prevents them from coming to Town Meeting."
Town elections are scheduled for May 21.