Jack Petropoulos

Jun 082015
 

Contested elections are never easy. The good news is that they are always resolved and, with any luck, everything turns out for the better. This year we re-elected a Selectman and two School Committee representatives, and brought on a new member to the School Committee, all in contested elections. As a community we learned a lot along the way, and now it is time to say that it was all worth the effort, and to put that knowledge to work.

It is also time to recognize the help, the challenge, and the opportunity that elections bring out. Please join me from 6:15 to 7:30 at the Tavern at the Groton Country Club on Tuesday June 9th to celebrate the election, what it taught us, and where we want to go.

Nothing fancy. Just a chance to say “Hi;” Thank you,” and to offer a thought or two about the years ahead.

Jack Petropoulos


May 312015
 

I offer my gratitude to the town of Groton for electing me to serve a second term as Selectman.

I owe a great deal of thanks to many many people for making this happen, but above all I would like to thank each and every voter that came out last Tuesday and participated with their vote. This was certainly a spirited election. The candidates for both School Committee and Selectmen offered distinct and well defined positions. Every vote mattered because each one carried a message. I think that this year, those messages were especially loud and clear. Election results are like tea leaves, and one can make of them what they like, but the great thing about a democratic election is that, in the end a candidate is selected and we move on from there to the mission of serving the town. In the best of cases, the chosen candidate will remember what they heard along the way. I will do all I can to contribute to that mission, and to remember those messages, as I work for another 3 years as a member of the Board of Selectmen.

I would also like to say that I was heartened by the support that I received, especially in the last few months, encouraging me to stay the course, and on election day as people that I have never met felt compelled to stop and tell me why they voted as they did. To those of you that provided this input, you will never know how important those bits of support are, and again, I thank you. I encourage all of us to do more to provide feedback to our elected representatives. No matter what the message, as long as it is sincere and respectful, I think that it makes for a better town and it let’s us know that the work that we do is meaningful.

Lastly, to the Herald and to The Groton Line, thank you for your work to keep us all informed. I hope that you will hold us all accountable in the years to come, sparing none of us should we falter, and recognizing our efforts should we succeed.

Sincerely,

Jack Petropoulos


May 182015
 

In reply to a recent letter to the Editor claiming my actions to be the source of the discord at the Board of Selectmen, and offering a tale to his neighbors of my “going to Planning Board” as an example, I would like to provide a bit of perspective:

As a member of the Planning Board, the author knows full well that no such thing happened.

The fact is that I was presented with a town employee’s concern that the construction cost specified in the Groton School’s building permit were significantly understated. Knowing the consequences of questioning the actions of town hall, I sought the less disruptive path of asking an acquaintance, who happens to be a member of the Planning Board, if they had a sense of the size of the project. The acquaintance did not know the value and arranged a meeting with the building department. We politely, without accusations, discussed the discrepancy between the Mass Development news release which specified the initiative as a $48M project, and the construction cost stated on the building permit which stated the initiative as a $6.5M project. Within days, and exactly as I feared, a classic response was issued by the Town Manager using words like: “innuendo”, “misrepresentation of the facts”, “misinformation being spread” to characterize my actions. Together with a letter from the Groton School’s attorney, the Town Manager’s letter assured that “The fee charged for their project is accurate and well researched.” The Planning Board member was part of every discussion that we had on this matter and, should the author or his neighbors care to get the truth on this, he can speak to the (in) accuracy of those characterizations. Fortunately, despite this resistance and assurance that all was right with the world, and with a bit of perseverance, the actual cost was eventually disclosed to be over $21M and we recouped an additional $144,000 in building permit fees.

The other observations made by the author on Blood Farm permit fees, my relationship with the press, and the Four Corners Sewer are similarly incomplete, but to address each here would serve only to provide a lengthy demonstration of the trend.

The trend I find disappointing is the way that events such as the above are spun to distract attention from the real issues; or as has been done here, to accomplish an agenda. For example, the idea that a very serious violation of the Open Meeting law can be turned into an attack on someone who refused to participate in the violation is amazing to me. The author is right in that it does tend to discourage volunteerism. For those who do volunteer, why would any of them take the risk of taking a stand only to be named as “the purveyor of discord”?

I can assure anyone willing to believe that discord is sometimes the reaction to healthy change that I have always tried to do things politely, discretely and methodically; but when protocol is ineffective I will do what I must to affect what is right.

Getting along is important, but we were not elected to join a club.

Sincerely,

Jack Petropoulos


Mar 042015
 

Dear Editor,

In a recent Letter to the Editor, the writer (Selectman Stuart Schulman — Ed.) observes that: “…our Board’s tendency toward disharmony began exactly, almost to the day, when … stepped down nearly 3 years ago.” and asks: “What’s changed?”

To offer an appropriately concise response to an overly simplistic implication: What has changed is that someone stood up and said “no.”

  • “No we cannot disband the Personnel Board in violation of our own By-law and in spite of an overwhelming Town Meeting vote to retain it.”
  • “No we cannot ignore the Open Meeting law because we find it inconvenient.”
  • “No we cannot spend $13M for a sewer system when we don’t even know if it is septic systems that are causing the problem.” (By the way Non-Point Source Program Manager of the DEP has recently stated that they find it hard to believe that even half of the problem in Lost Lake is from septic systems.)
  • “No you cannot cut Fire / EMS staff, effectively crippling our EMS response time for overlapping medical calls, without telling the BOS about it.”
  • “No you cannot place a 20 page data dump in my mail box and say you met your obligation to present a quarterly financial review to the Board.”
  • “No we cannot give free building permits to local business men, nor intentionally hide debate on same from the public.”
  • “No you may not require me to copy you on emails in my reply to citizens who write to us complaining about your behavior. I will keep you appropriately informed of the substance of the communication, but I will not betray their expectation of privacy.”
  • “No we cannot continue to grow our municipal government spending at almost twice the rate that we grow our revenue.

Some people take “no” for an answer better than others, and change invariably causes dissonance in all but the most highly functioning organizations. Each of these responses was offered discretely at first (which rarely makes the paper) yet all were resisted. Tellingly, every one of them was ultimately resolved as you would expect, once they were forced to be discussed in the public eye.

So, in light of the above, I suggest that the more appropriate question is: “Did something need to change?”

It is my job to represent you. If you would rather have harmony at the expense of leaving issues such as these uncontested, please let me know. I would gladly not endure the unpleasantries that go along with challenging the status quo.

Sincerely,

Jack Petropoulos
Selectman


Mar 152014
 

Dear Editor,

Do you know the answer to this question well enough to cast an informed vote? If not, don’t be surprised, you are not alone. A large % of the people that attend Town Meeting cannot accurately explain these terms. Indeed these can be complicated concepts and if you are not thinking about this stuff every day it is easy to be confused. But being confused is neither good practice nor is it necessary. These terms, and others like them, are relatively easy to understand if presented in an easily digestible way, in an environment where you are encouraged to ask questions.

Join Town Clerk Michael Bouchard and Selectman Jack Petropoulos in a session where these things are explained in plain English. We will have a brief presentation and then a lengthy Q-and-A session. The environment will be one where no one is expected to come in as an expert, and we expect to explain the same concept a number of times in a number of ways throughout the session.

Two sessions will be offered in the comfort of Sibley Hall at the Groton Public Library: Thursday, March 20th at 7 p.m. and Saturday March 22nd, at 10 a.m.

Sincerely,

Jack Petropoulos


Need to learn about town financing and levy limits?

Levy Limits: A Primer on Proposition 2 1 / 2
Download the Massachusetts Department of Revenue’s “Levy Limits: A Primer on Proposition 2 1/2”
Download Michael Bouchard’s “Town of Groton and the Regional School District Budget”


Feb 092014
 

Dear Editor,

Roughly two weeks ago, The Groton Herald printed an unsigned editorial in which it suggested that my objection to cuts in public safety staffing were lacking in fact, and were reckless and irresponsible.

While the paper is certainly entitled to its opinion, there is a responsibility to be both objective and informed. I do not believe that either of these responsibilities were met. To his credit, Russ Harris, one of the paper’s editors, agreed to discuss the issue after the piece was written, and to publish the resulting text. Unfortunately this dialogue was only published in the online version of The Herald, rather than in the printed version in which the editorial was originally distributed.

I ask that you make the dialogue (below) and the original editorial and video of the presentation available to your readers so that they can hear the facts and form their own conclusions.

Background: On November 12 of last year, Groton’s Fire Chief was ordered to refuse to fill vacancies on the Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift when doing so required overtime. This shift accounts for 45% of all fire / EMS calls. This resulted in the normal four On Duty Firefighter / EMT staffing model running short staffed over 50% of the time during this busy time of the year when overtime peaks as a result of holidays, scheduled vacations and training. This handicapped the Department’s capacity to immediately answer 2 medical calls simultaneously or to enter a burning building with the required “2 in; 2 out” standard. It instead required waiting for “Call” resources to arrive at a time of day when they (Call resources) have generally lower availability. This situation went on until it was discovered and reversed on January 13.

Reprinted from The Groton Herald:

Editors Note: Two weeks ago we wrote an Editorial titled ‘Clown-Car Politics’, criticizing Selectman Jack Petropoulos for accusing Town Manager Mark Haddad of endangering the public safety by restricting overtime hours for the Fire Department. We recently sat down with Selectman Petropoulos to review our claim that his actions were ‘reckless and irresponsible.’

Groton Herald: You claim restricting overtime hours for the Fire Department ‘endangered the public safety’. Could you give us just one convincing example of when and how, as you say, the public safety was endangered?

Selectman Petropoulos: There are many. For instance on 12/19 a call for a medical emergency which should have been responded to in well under 9 minutes went unanswered by Groton EMS (due to short staffing) and required mutual aid from a private ambulance with a final response time of 18 minutes. This was at least a 9 minute delay.
It is true that many calls are not time sensitive; but there are an enormous number of ‘time critical’ calls a year. It is a matter of chance that this call was a delay rather than a tragedy.

Groton Herald: You just gave one example. How many clear examples were there during the two-month period you looked at that you truly consider ‘endangered the public safety’?

Selectman Petropoulos: I don’t have the numbers for the two month period. It is a very complex process to take apart the call logs and to accurately tease out the instances where short staffing resulted in a delay.

I worked with the Chief to see if we could find any indication that calls were delayed. The first 4 instances that we found were in a 7 day period between 12/19/2013 and 12/26/13. I do not know if they are representative as they were selected randomly. I do know that short staffing was spread throughout the 2 month period.

Groton Herald: In the editorial, we said that you ‘inserted yourself in a labor dispute between the Firefighters Union and the Town Manager.’ Do you think this is true?

Selectman Petropoulos: I inserted myself into a public safety issue. A year ago, before the firefighters forming their union, I would have done the same thing and there would have been no union allegation. If my actions affected a union dispute, so be it. To have failed to take this action because there was potentially some benefit to a union, or any third party, would have been truly irresponsible.

Groton Herald: Can you understand how others could interpret your approach as taking the side of a Union in this dispute?

Selectman Petropoulos: Any complex issue assessed with limited access to information is easy to interpret from a variety of perspectives. Absent the kind of details and facts that we are discussing today, a case can easily be made that I am acting as a union sympathizer.

I think that the union issue is a red herring, distracting from the central issue of public safety.

Groton Herald: Does your action undermine the Town Manager’s authority when negotiating with other town Unions?

Selectman Petropoulos:Outcomes that rely on authority rather than reason are rarely productive. In this case both the authority to make the cuts and the reasoning for making them, was countered by the BoS in its instruction to the Town Manager to return staffing to the level specified by the Chief, to manage staffing levels in the best interest of public safety, and not to adjust staffing levels again without first discussing with the BOS.

It is important to note that I did not create this situation. If there is an impact on the Town Manager’s authority to negotiate with other town Unions, I think that it was the result of the actions that he took, rather than my efforts to reverse them.

Groton Herald: Do you think it is fair that Call firefighters are restricted from serving as substitutes for Union Firefighters when Union Firefighters are on vacation? Would you support a change in the Union contract?

Selectman Petropoulos: Call firefighters are not restricted from serving as substitutes for Full Time (Union) firefighters. Full Time firefighters are given right of first refusal. This practice was in place before the creation of the union last year, and is common in combination (Full Time and Call) departments around the Country. (Ironically, had the order to refuse overtime to Full Time personnel not been given, protocol would have allowed the vacancies to be filled by Call firefighters at a reduced rate.)

The practice, like any other, has pluses and minuses, and it, like any practice, should be a part of ongoing negotiation. I would be supportive of a change if, on balance, the outcome is positive.

Groton Herald: In hindsight, Do you think you could have brought the accusation of ‘endangering the public safety’ in a less provocative way?

Selectman Petropoulos: The provocative nature of this situation was created long before I became aware of it. It rests in the timing and the consequence of the cuts, and the fact that they were made without notice to the BOS or the public. Unwinding these in an environment governed by Open Meeting law was inevitably going to be controversial.

As soon as the magnitude of the public safety risk became clear to me I asked for an emergency meeting of the BOS. That request was made by email late on Thursday 1/9/14 and followed with a phone call early on the 10th. An emergency meeting, though open to the public, would likely have garnered far less attention than a regularly scheduled meeting. I was not looking for a show.

My request was not granted and the issue was scheduled by the Vice Chair of the BOS for discussion at the regularly scheduled meeting on the evening of 1/13/14. I believe I laid out a factual case while assuring that the magnitude of the risk was properly understood. The fact that it became charged was likely inevitable.

Groton Herald: Do you think we should adopt a full-time firefighting force in order to better protect the public safety?

Selectman Petropoulos: Not at this point. Public safety is not an absolute goal. We cannot put a fire station on every corner and a police officer in every home. We balance cost and benefit. Our current Combination model and staffing structure is the balance that Town Meeting has approved. It covers 70% of the calls with 5 full time personnel .

We cannot afford a full-time firefighter / EMS force, nor would we gain incremental benefit proportional to the cost. Our Call firefighters and EMS staff do an amazing job of providing protection for the 50% of the day when Full Time staff are not on duty. I believe that our current model is a great combination for our town in our circumstances.

We may well need to go to a more full time model in the future if we are unable to continue to recruit and retain Call firefighter and EMS resources. We just had our largest recruitment class ever so for the near term at least, we can count on our Combination model and the men and women that staff it to give us great protection at a cost we are willing to bear.

Groton Herald: Do you think we should increase the percentage of the town budget spend on ‘Protection of Persons and Property’ (Police and Fire Departments)?

Selectman Petropoulos: I don’t think of our investment in terms of percentage of town budget. I think of it in terms of cost and benefit. Understanding emergency call volume and resource availability provides the metrics necessary to tell us where to invest our first dollar, how to invest subsequent dollars and where to draw the line.

In my opinion we have drawn that line at the right place with our firefighting EMS budget. I am less familiar with our Police staffing and so I cannot express an informed opinion. It is the job of the Fire and Police Chiefs to alert the Board when, in their professional opinion, their budgets are not providing adequate public safety. Anyone who has watched the budget creation process will understand the challenge that they endure in order to justify increases.

Groton Herald: Do you consider the Groton Herald Editorial [sic] unfair?’

Selectman Petropoulos: I think that it would have been better to have spoken before you wrote your piece. It is not easy to take a stand, and that task is made harder by criticism such as that levied in your Editorial. For better or for worse, this is what I signed up for when I ran for Selectman, but I would ask you to think about how words affect the decision of others to volunteer for public office, or to take a position that they know will be controversial.

That said, I appreciate the opportunity to have this discussion. It is to your credit that we can have this dialogue and I think your readers are well served by your willingness to do so. Had I not brought this issue forward, and if someone was ultimately injured by these cuts, I can only imagine the editorial that you would have written, and how you would have rightly used the words “reckless and irresponsible.”


Dec 032013
 

Dear Editor

The Town of Groton has long wrestled with the idea of building a sewer system to serve the Lost Lake area. Among the reasons for considering this work is the concern that house lots around the lake are too small to allow safe placement of septic systems and private wells.

The Lost Lake Sewer Advisory Committee has focused on finding objective data in its effort to understand the need and benefits of a sewer system. One of the data points that we would like to gather is the current health of private wells around the lake.

Accordingly, we are investigating the viability and acceptability of offering free voluntary confidential private well testing to residents that are included in the proposed sewer district. The short description of the plan is:

Residents could volunteer to have private well samples collected by a town representative. Samples would be correlated with one of eight regions around the lake and sent to a state-certified lab. Individual test results would go back to the homeowners and the town would get only an aggregated set of results showing outcomes by region. The town would neither receive nor have access to any record of the lots associated with the results.

There are a lot of questions to be answered and details to be finalized, but at this point we are interested in getting community feedback on this proposal.

Feedback can be provided to the Board of Selectmen by:

  • Sending email to: selectmen@townofgroton.org
  • Calling the Selectmen’s office at 978-448-1111
  • Posting to the Talk About Groton email list: talkaboutgroton@googlegroups.com (You need to be a member of this free group to use this method. — Ed.)
  • We hope, by posting this letter here, we will get input from the community that will help us to think of things that we had not considered, and to get an idea of the level of interest in this proposal.

    Sincerely,

    Jack Petropoulos
    Selectman and
    Chair, Lost Lake Sewer Advisory Committee


Jul 012013
 

Jack Petropoulos

Jack Petropoulos

Maybe the first time you see them they are standing at a podium or sitting on stage, presiding over the mysterious process that is Town Meeting. What is it that they are asking us to consider? How can my opinion compare with what they must know?

That was my impression of the Selectmen the first time that I attended Town Meeting.

The magic of it all was quickly dispelled when I watched my first televised BoS meeting and saw the humdrum of day-to-day approval of roads, appointment of the Fence Watcher, and the reading of meeting minutes. But when the Fire Station siting proposal for the Sacred Heart location came up and I found much to object to, I started to understand the challenge of being in a municipal decision-making position.

And so, with painful humility, I put my name on a lot of front lawns and was duly elected to the role of Selectman. Orientation consisted of a swearing in and an initial meeting with the Town Manager and the Chair of the Board. A few ground rules were noted, a couple of current issues were reviewed, and I was off to figure it out by myself.

When do you go along to get along, and when do you take a stand based on principle? There just is no training for this.


How does one know what criteria to use to issue a liquor license? How do you know who will make a good Conservation Commissioner? When do you go along to get along, and when do you take a stand based on principle? There just is no training for this, and perhaps, that is as it should be. You are elected because people perceive you to be something. Maybe it is best to hope that they perceived you correctly, and that the person that you are should form your decisions and guide your actions. With this as my background, I completed my first year as a Selectman.

It wasn’t until after a year on the Board that I had the opportunity to attend the Massachusetts Municipal Association“s (MMA) New Selectman Training class. Eager to know if this training might answer questions such as: Exactly what are the grounds on which you can deny a liquor permit? , I reviewed the Agenda to confirm my expectations of value.

To my dismay, the curriculum might have been titled Common Sense 101. But I signed up just to be sure that I wasn”t oversimplifying, and to demonstrate my willingness to learn.

The kickoff was a legislative update informing us all of the initiatives that the MMA was working on our behalf. At times it seemed a bit promotional but that is what lobbyists do. But it reminded me that small towns are affected by the actions of the State Legislature, and it is important to know about these things and to affect them if they are important to your town.

Next we reviewed the Role of Selectmen. Like any good introductory course, it started with a set of guiding principles, in this case:

The 10 Golden Rules
  1. Do the right thing.
  2. Always respond to your constituents.
  3. Never:
    1. Believe them
    2. Promise them anything
    3. Tell them you can fix it
  4. Never ever lose your temper.
  5. Never treat anyone who comes before you with disrespect, sarcasm, or condescension.
  6. Always remember that the people who come before you are citizens, business owners, or employees of your community.
  7. Always assume that everyone knows nothing (don’t presume understanding).
  8. When the fight is over, it is over.
  9. Thank everyone.
  10. Make friends out of enemies.

Now each of us can look at this list and see applicability. And each of us probably sees that differently. Having just attended the ‘lively discussion’ of the BoS meeting in which GELD informed the Board that it was withholding its Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT), I found many of the items quite timely. Overall there is a little in here for all of us and, simple as these are, they are indeed great guiding principles.

There is also a move in many towns to change the term: Selectmen to Selectboard Member. Now my spell check doesn’t recognize that term yet but I am guessing it will some day. It is also particularly useful if you would like to reference a member’s actions without giving away their identity by gender.

Moving on to Ethics and Conflict of Interest Law, I prepared to learn all I could to keep myself out of trouble. It turns out I could have accepted that free cup of coffee the other day, but it does get complicated. There are lots of rules about dollar limits and conditional guidelines that exceed my capacity to keep straight.

A teacher may accept a $40 gift at the end of the school year without disclosure after grades are in, but must provide disclosure if the gift is given prior to assigning grades, as the gift could be seen as an inducement.


One great example:

A teacher may accept a $40 gift at the end of the school year without disclosure after grades are in, but must provide disclosure if the gift is given prior to assigning grades, as the gift could be seen as an inducement.

I think I will just buy my own coffee.

Avoiding conflicts of interest may mean abstaining from a vote. Just the other day a Selectboard Member felt that they needed to recues themselves from a vote and left the podium and sat in the audience. They none-the-less weighed in on the issue as a citizen when discussion was opened to the floor. This behavior was challenged as inappropriate and all I had to go on at the time was my common sense when I defended their actions.

Well, now that I am trained, I know:

  • Abstaining should be in the interest of advancing government.
  • Abstaining means no substantive participation as a public official
  • It does not require that the individual loses their rights as a citizen so participation from the audience may be appropriate.
  • At their own discretion the member may:
    • Simply announce their abstention
    • Remove themselves from the table
    • Remove themselves from the meeting entirely


While there aren’t 10 Golden Rules for Ethics and Conflict of Interest, there is a Code of Conduct which advises public officials to refrain from acting in a manner in which a reasonable person looking at the situation might perceive a bias. Again you don’t need to be an elected official to see the value in this guidance.

Should a citizen have a complaint about a public official’s ethics, the State takes this very seriously and has a number to call to speak with the “Attorney of the Day” : (888) 485-4766.

Lastly we learned about Open Meeting and Public Records. Again there is a lot of common sense in here but from what I heard, common sense isn’t so common. The AG’s office sees a lot of complaints around this issue but finds that most of the violations are based on ignorance rather than intent.

The purpose of the Open Meeting Law is to strike a balance between efficiency and transparency. This is an interesting objective because it recognizes the importance of process and disclosure, and rejects the idea that efficient operation is an excuse for moving things forward without due process.

But openness does not mean participation. “Open meeting” means “open to public view.” The Chair has the right to allow or restrict participation. A few clever tactics were reviewed for how to handle cases where public participation got out of hand. I’ll save those for the right occasion.

Actually the law gets a bit complex. Simply forwarding an email may create a quorum and on more than one occasion the use of email in general was reviewed as possibly being more trouble than it was worth.

One of the aspects of Open Meeting that has struck me most has been the concept of Executive Session in which meetings may be closed to the public in a few narrowly defined instances. Calling an Executive Session is subject to guidelines intended to assure that the public knows why the session is called. As much information as possible must be disclosed prior to going into session without compromising the intent of the session.

Oddly, while an Executive Session may be called to protect the privacy of an individual, that individual must still be named and the general purpose of the meeting must still be disclosed. Meeting minutes must be detailed and accurate (though not a transcript) and must reference all documents discussed. Though they are kept, minutes may be withheld “so long as publication may defeat the lawful purpose of the executive session but no longer.”

The Board is required to meet regularly to review undisclosed Executive Session minutes.


A couple of interesting safeguards exist to be sure that dirty laundry doesn’t get buried: The Board is required to meet regularly to review undisclosed Executive Session minutes , and requests for Executive Session minutes must be responded to within 10 days.

Overall, for me, the recurring theme of the training was the persistent idea that we are here to serve and no matter how hard the issue, we need to behave in a matter that is in the best interest of the town. While for most of us day to day, the acts of getting angry, accepting favors and keeping secrets may be just part of life, they become destructive behaviors once the hat of public service is donned. I still don’t know the grounds for denying a liquor license, but I trust that my judgment will carry me through.

I am grateful to the town for having afforded me this opportunity. While it brought some issues to light that I can follow up on, for me the more important thing is the perspective that it drives home. It is my hope that I have and always will carry these principles forward. Now, in no uncertain terms, you know what to expect from all of your Selectboard Members, new or seasoned.


Jan 252013
 

Quite some time ago, our Town Manager developed a plan to put the town in the position of being able to fund a new fire station while leaving sufficient budget capacity to fund our schools and all other important town services and functions without requiring an override of any kind.

Last year, Town Meeting approved a fire station site and design. Part of the plan was to bring a request for the bonding of funds to a Special Town Meeting in January of 2013. Bids have come in within 2% of the projected cost, and tomorrow, Saturday, January 26th, Town Meeting will be asked to give final approval to that project.

Recently, in The Groton Herald, both an Editorial and a Letter to the Editor suggested that the plan to fund the fire station debt would jeopardize other Town priorities. The Editorial conveyed significant misinformation and was corrected by Selectman Cunningham. The Letter was quite well-researched and laid out a reasoned option that the author favored. All argued that the Town Manager’s plan for funding for the fire station would handicap our ability to fund other priorities, such as our schools.

These individuals, and others, have suggested that we should use a “debt exclusion” to fund the fire station. A debt exclusion is simply a provision that would allow the town to raise taxes by the amount required to pay the fire station debt, and assures that taxes would be reduced when the debt is paid. It is essentially a temporary proposition 2 1/2 override. It is particularly useful if a town cannot afford to fund a debt without raising taxes beyond the levy limit. One or more of its proponents will ask Town Meeting to fund the station through a “debt exclusion” rather than by funding within the current tax capacity. This would require that we arrange a Town Election with the ballot item being a proposal to fund the fire station through debt exclusion rather than by 2/3 majority vote at Town Meeting. The delay in construction may or may not cause the Town to have to put the fire station back out to bid, and will likely cause an increase in cost due to inflation.

Those who would argue against a debt exclusion point out that, once invoked, a debt exclusion cannot be revoked, causing taxes to remain elevated for the duration of the debt. They also note that, at any time in the future, if the town would like to move the debt into a debt exclusion it can vote to do so, providing a measure of flexibility in budget management.

The fact is that the Town Manager’s budget provides sufficient tax capacity to fund all anticipated expenses, with up to $500,000 available to fund surprises should they come forward. We are indeed in the enviable position of being able to fund the fire station while leaving a considerable surplus to fund unanticipated expenses without requiring a tax override.

I believe that it is unnecessary to incur a debt exclusion at this time. I ask voters to listen to the arguments for and against this proposal, and to consider whether it would be wise to incur this obligation now, or to wait to see if it is truly necessary at some point in the future.

Sincerely,

Jack Petropoulos, Selectman


Jan 232013
 

On Saturday January 26th our Town will be asked to fund the demolition, abutment stabilization, and replacement of Fitch’s Bridge.

Well over 250 years ago this bridge was originally built to facilitate foot, equestrian, wagon and stage coach traffic across the Nashua River just south of the Pepperell / Groton line. It has been rebuilt many times since, most recently in 1898. Today that structure is long past its usefulness as a connector between Groton and West Groton, and is now a serious liability to those who would jump from it to swim, and to those who would seek to stop them, or to help them if they are injured. This structure must be removed, and the abutments stabilized. The costs are known, and we have the budget to do the work this year.

This work will involve equipment and contractors that can, for a surprisingly modest additional cost, replace the bridge with a new structure that would last for many decades, reestablishing that connection yet again. Town Meeting will be asked to consider funding the additional cost of replacement as an option to a simple demolition project.

The replacement option would connect an impressive infrastructure of public trails in Groton to a similar, but currently unconnected, system of trails in West Groton. This single improvement would instantly create a 100+ mile network of trails that can be enjoyed by hikers, cyclists and equestrians without having to travel long stretches of busy roads.

But the connection that this physical structure would provide would be more than just a multiplier of the value of our infrastructure. It would be a defining contribution to the character of our town. Symbolically it would join two districts in a common recreational network. Both its function, and the view it would create, would celebrate a river that, not long ago was among the most polluted in our Country; a river whose resurgence is largely attributed to the sheer will and determination of one of our most renowned citizens. It would create a vantage from which to watch the activities of The Groton School”s crew team, and a spectacular view of foliage in the fall and the stillness of the frozen snow covered river and forest in the winter. More importantly, it would be our statement that we value and invest in preserving historic travel patterns; and advance our distinction as a town that treasures outdoor recreation.

A town’s character is not an accident. It is the result of the guidance, actions and investments of its citizens. It is the difference between “nice to haves” and ‘need to haves”. We decide what our Town will be. It is up to us to either make the investments to advance those objectives, or to forego those opportunities.

In my view, going beyond the simple demolition of this bridge by funding its replacement, is our chance to make a great contribution to that character.

Jack Petropoulos
Selectman, Groton MA