GROTON -- Completing their review of individual department budget proposals for fiscal 2014, members of the Finance Committee prepared to make final decisions on spending recommendations to Town Meeting.
According to Finance Committee Chairwoman Alice Von Loesecke, the aim is to have a final budget recommendation ready for Feb. 28.
After having met with other town departments over the last few weeks, Finance Committee members met with those remaining on the morning of Jan. 19 when they spoke with representatives of the Economic Development Committee and Parks and Recreation.
Prior to setting departments to work formulating their individual budgets for 2014, the Finance Committee told each that what it was looking for was a level-serviced budget taking into account increased spending by the town of no more than 2.5 percent as allowed by the state's Proposition 2 1/2 law.
With only modest growth expected next year, fiscal planners decided to take a cautious approach to the budget and while asking departments to keep spending down, did allow room for new expenditures should projections prove rosier than expected.
Accordingly, departments were also invited to include "wish lists" of new spending that they would like to have if extra funds were to become available.
For instance, EDC chairman Elaine Lazarus asked for extra money to pay for the creation of the committee's own Web page that would then be connected to the town's own site.
Speaking to the Finance Committee, Lazarus explained that although her committee had been charged by the Board of Selectmen to bring more business to the town's commercial district, it had not as yet spent any of the money appropriated for its use.
To help promote local business and get the word out about what the committee does, Lazarus told Finance Committee members that the group would like establish its own website.
"It will be an important tool for improving the town's communication with residents and businesses on EDC related topics and for marketing the town," stated a position paper presented by the EDC to the Finance Committee. "The website will provide a forum to create and advance discussions, ideas and feedback for EDC and the town, and the information and content created by it will be useful for other boards as well.
"Most importantly," continued the paper, "the scope of the website is to help improve the general quality of life for Harvard residents, foster a more positive relationship between the town and businesses located in Harvard, and to promote Harvard as a place where a business can grow and flourish."
To pay for the new website, Lazarus estimated the cost as coming to $5,282.
Similarly, representatives of Parks and Recreation also had a number of items on their wish list, including the possible hiring of a full-time recreation director, a part-time boat checker, and the purchase of needed boating equipment.
Although no decision on the proposed spending was made at the Jan. 18 meeting, the suggestions met with a not unfriendly reception.
The decision by the Finance Committee to pursue a level-serviced budget for fiscal 2014 is not an unusual one, having been requested in fiscal 2013 as well.
Driven by the current downturn in the state's economy, the level-serviced budget nevertheless can be considered an improvement over the level-funded budget of fiscal 2012 that forced cuts in municipal services.
However, the modest growth experienced by the town in 2013 was not enough to overcome fiscal planners' caution what with the town taxing to its lawful levy limit as well as continued economic uncertainty brought on by an increase in the federal payroll tax, reductions in local aid money from the state, and tax hikes threatened by the governor.
The town's budget for fiscal 2013 came in at $20,710,819, with more than 50 percent dedicated to school spending.