GROTON -- In a fast-moving meeting, selectmen ran through a number of agenda items Monday night, including approval of a new contract for the police chief, approval of a conservation restriction on local land and discussion of next steps on disposition of the disused Squannacook Hall.

First up was the issue of chief of police Donald Palma's contract renewal, which will be for another three years beginning on July 1, 2013.

According to Town Manager Mark Haddad, the contract calls for a 4 percent salary increase, bringing Palma's annual pay up to $121,474.

The only other change from the past six years since Palma was appointed is in vacation time, which was extended from three weeks to four.

Characterizing Palma's performance over the years as "spectacular," Haddad told selectmen that he was happy to have him with the town's Police Department.

Board members concurred with Chairman Stuart Schulman noting that "he's done a great job" and that Palma "relates really well with the public."

Selectman Anna Eliot said she noticed "a great improvement" at the Police Department and that she looked forward to the next three years under Palma's leadership.

"He's done an outstanding job," agreed Selectman Joshua Degen, adding that the chief had promoted a good sense of camaraderie on the force.

Selectmen voted to approve Palma's new contract.


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Squannacook Hall

Selectmen were pleased to learn from Haddad that he had heard from three separate people interested in possible purchase of the historic Squannacook Hall in West Groton.

The hall was mothballed by the board a couple of years ago but when a new septic plan was recently approved, buyers were sought for the property.

Advertisements for its sale were placed and for a brief time, at least one buyer had expressed interest in the building before pulling out unexpectedly.

Although disappointed, town officials persevered until Haddad told selectmen that he had heard from three: one interested in converting the building into a multi-family dwelling, another for use as a private dwelling, and a third who wanted to turn it over for community use.

Haddad asked selectmen to allow him to re-advertise the building for sale in order to accept bids from the interested parties.

"I'd like to put it out to see what happens," said Haddad. He said what is important is re-use of the building and not necessarily the price paid for it.

Selectmen agreed and voted in favor of re-advertising.

Conservation restriction

The board entertained a request to support placing a conservation restriction on 35 acres of land off Martin's Pond Road that has been in limbo since 1999.

According to conservation agent Barbara Ganem, the idea of placing a CR on the property was approved by residents at Town Meeting but had been tied up in the approval and disposition process ever since.

That problem was eventually worked out with the CR to be held by the Groton Conservation Trust with the town still technically in ownership of the land.

Selectmen leaned in favor of agreeing with the arrangement until Degen, who recused himself from the board to avoid a conflict of interest, spoke from the floor to voice his concerns about giving responsibility for the CR to the Trust.

Degen's position was immediately challenged by Eliot who said that his previous issues with the Trust prejudiced his opinion on the issue. Degen replied that whatever issues he'd had with the Trust were settled six years ago but he remained wary of the group.

Degen said that in the past, the trust had not always kept their promises of leaving protected land alone.

"I think that the trust does a good job (as a steward of land in their possession) but nobody's perfect," said Schulman.

"I think there's enough protection for the board to accept (the CR)," added Haddad.

With the feelings of a majority of board members in favor of the conservation restriction, selectmen voted to allow the stewardship plan to proceed.

Selectmen also:

* Voted to approve a Class II License for Cow Pond Brook Road resident Fred Correia that would allow him to auction used cars from his home. To make sure no physical selling of automobiles was performed on Correia's property, selectmen conditioned the approval on restrictions against the sale or storage of vehicles on his property, and a ban on the use of signs, banners or flags of any kind.

* Voted to appoint Richard Dunn to the Affordable Housing Trust to fill out an unexpired term.

* Heard from Haddad that construction of the new Center Fire Station had proceeded swiftly with the foundation being poured and delivery of the metal framework expected any day. After that, said the town manager, the frame of the building should rise quickly. Total cost of the new station with interest on a recently acquired loan will come to $9.5 million. If all goes well, the new station is expected to be completed by next April.