GROTON -- A warning from the state's Department of Revenue has placed in jeopardy funding plans for the creation of new playing fields proposed by the Parks Commission.
As reported by Community Preservation Commission (CPC) member Bruce Easom at the group's meeting of March 25, the DOR has indicated that its "matching" funds to the CPC this year would come in at only 26 percent rather than the 37 percent that had been expected.
If that number held, said Easom, it meant that the commission would have only $309,000 in its unallocated reserves and not $360,000.
The final amount is crucial to an application to the CPC by the Parks Commission which had depended on there being at least $360,000 in the reserve account to help fund its plan to create new playing fields on 35 acres adjacent to the town's transfer station.
If completed, the new Ledge Rock Field would include three new playing fields and parking for 100 cars.
But with the announcement from the DOR, those plans were placed in doubt.
Easom said there was a possibility of convincing the DOR into giving the higher amount of funds if a letter was addressed to the agency giving good reasons for it. However, he said that what the department really looks at is a project's fiscal stability and proof that the town stood behind it. But in the case of the Parks Commission plan, that was far from happening.
Although placed on the warrant for the upcoming spring Town Meeting, the town has yet to authorize any appropriation in support of the project and up to $50,000 pledged by private sports groups to help pay for construction is not taken into account by the state.
As a result, Easom recommended against writing a letter.
However, there was another problem. Should the Ledge Rock warrant article proceed and be approved, requesting $350,000 from the CPC's unallocated reserve as written, it would leave the account overdrawn by $41,000 (if state matching funds do not exceed 26 percent).
If that happened, said town accountant Patricia DuFresne, and the 37 percent amount was not awarded, the account would be in default and the town's fiscal certification by the state endangered.
"There's just no way around that," said Parks Commission member John Strauss.
A possible solution to the problem, said Strauss, came from Town Manager Mark Haddad, who suggested that the request be divided into two warrant articles, one would seek only $309,000 from the CPC and the other would authorize the town to borrow the balance of $591,000.
The authorization to borrow the latter amount would be conditioned upon the Parks Commission winning a state grant of $400,000.
Once, when the town had first voted to adopt the Community Preservation Act (CPA), wording in the enabling legislation promised that the state would match all funds raised by a surcharge on local property that was dedicated for use by the town's CPC.
When the CPA was adopted by Groton in 2004, residents had agreed on the maximum amount of the surcharge, which was set at 3 percent.
But since that time, the state's contributions have fallen steadily until last year they came in at only 35 percent even though early word was that it would be lower. Town officials are hoping that the same will happen this year: a warning of only 26 percent that will end up being somewhat higher.
But for the purposes of Town Meeting, voting on the parks article cannot be predicated on what might be.
Funds raised through the CPA are earmarked solely for the creation of community housing, historic preservation, the purchase of open space and recreational purposes. It is the responsibility of the CPC to review submissions and prepare those that meet CPA standards for presentation to voters at Town Meeting for final approval.
Once projects are approved for funding, the CPC monitors them to make sure the money awarded is spent correctly and the jobs move along at a regular pace.
As for the Ledge Rock playing fields, commissioners voted to amend the Parks Commission's application from a request for $350,000 to one of only $309,000 and to recommend the appropriation to Town Meeting.