GROTON -- Having improved its bond rating from double A to triple A, town officials took advantage of the situation to borrow $3.8 million to raise money covering expenses for, among other things, construction of the new headquarters being erected by the Groton Electric Light Department.
"We are at the top rating today," Town Manager Mark Haddad told selectmen at their meeting of July 14.
Haddad referred to a report by Standard & Poors dated July 11, notifying the town that it had "raised its rating on the town of Groton's general obligation debt one notch to 'AAA' from 'AA+'."
Among the factors that resulted in the new rating were a very strong local economy, budgetary flexibility with good reserves and operating surpluses, strong management conditions and financial policies, low overall debt, a 99 percent tax collection rate, and low reliance on state aid.
"This is great news for the town of Groton," said Haddad.
"It is great news," agreed Board of Selectmen Chairman Joshua Degen. "It's huge to get through a triple A."
With the new rating, Haddad announced the administration's intention of using it to issue $3.8 million in new bonds to retire previous bond anticipation notes for design and construction of the GELD facility and other obligations.
The bonds will obligate the town to pay a 2.43 percent interest rate but because of its improved rating, Groton will see a savings of at least $180,000 on the restructuring.
With those positive conditions in mind, selectmen voted to approve issuance of the bonds.
Also at their July 14 meeting, the board voted to deny permission for energy giant Kinder Morgan to survey town property.
Kinder-Morgan Energy Partners have proposed running a new 36-inch high pressure main from Dracut through Groton and beyond to supply area towns and other communities in central Massachusetts with natural gas.
In Groton, the proposed pipeline would run across portions of land owned by the Conservation Commission, Conservation Trust, beneath the Nashua River, over numerous private parcels, and the Groton-Dunstable Regional High School.
Although some residents in the affected towns have come out against the plan on grounds of damage to the environment due to laying the pipeline or the gas being produced by "fracking," others feared for the sanctity of private property.
After well attended public hearings on the subject, residents voted at a Special Town Meeting to oppose the pipeline, a position that Haddad recommended that selectmen should support.
Voting 4-1 to follow Haddad's suggestion, board member Jack Petropoulos dissented, saying that the decision would set a bad precedent for any other enterprise needing to do anything on public land.
Disagreeing, fellow selectman Peter Cunningham said that if Kinder Morgan ran into enough opposition, it might convince them to explore other options.
On another front, selectmen also voted to appoint Dennis Eklof, an energy industry consultant, to a new Pipeline Working Group that is intended to work at the local level on organizing efforts to address the proposed pipeline project.
Meanwhile, board member Stuart Schulman filled in his colleagues on the establishment of a separate inter-community group made up of 10 towns from Dracut to Littleton concerned about the pipeline plans.
Schulman reported that Townsend administrator Timothy Sheehan and himself were appointed co-chairmen of the group and that the first order of business will be to ask the state for a delay in implementing plans for the pipeline so that the group can get up to speed on all aspects of the project.
"This group is not officially against the pipeline," said Schulman.
At the July 14 meeting, selectmen also:
* Chose to appoint Mark Bacon and Art Prest to fill a pair of vacancies on the Finance Committee created with the resignations of Joseph Crowley and Steve Webber. The two met with the FinCom, which voted unanimously to appoint them after brief interviews, but the process was complicated when a late application by Marlene Gilbert was afterwards received by Haddad. Selectmen were inclined to follow the recommendations of the FinCom when it seemed clear that Gilbert's application came in too late. Questions about whether to consider her application or not arose when it was discovered that no firm deadline for submissions had been set. Deciding to support the choices of the FinCom, selectmen determined to create policy requiring deadlines be listed with any future requests for applications.
* Voted to accept the bid of Groton-based realtor John Carver to handle the sale of town buildings, including the former Prescott and Tarbell elementary schools. With no responses to an earlier request for proposal issued by Haddad seeking real estate marketing services to help in selling the properties, a second attempt was made to find an interested realtor with direct contact made to 10 local offices. Only Carver expressed interest. Conditions for signing on Carver included a 5 percent commission or $5,000, whichever was greater if a sale was made. The agreement with Carver will need to be approved by voters at the next town meeting.
* Were informed by Haddad that the first meeting of the Groton-Dunstable Regional Tri-Board Budget Committee will be held on Sept. 24. The committee's main mission will be to keep officials from both Groton and Dunstable as well as the district informed on the schools' budget process. Formation of the committee comes in the wake of a financial shortfall that forced fiscal brinksmanship in order to right the district's 2015 budget. However, a quarterly meeting schedule was deemed insufficient by selectmen who asked that their frequency be increased. The board also voted to appoint Degen as its representative on the committee.
* Voted to invite the attorney general's office to conduct a seminar on the state's open meeting law and require attendance by all selectmen as well as appointed members of boards and committees and their administrators. As an example of the seriousness in which the board would take attendance, Degen said anyone who did not certify their going to the seminar or watching it on the local cable channel could lose appointment to whichever board of committee they served on. The idea of holding the seminar was suggested by Degen in response to a recent finding by the attorney general's office that board member Peter Cunningham had violated the open meeting law when he polled fellow selectmen outside of a regular meeting. Cunningham had sought his colleague's positions about waiving permitting fees for the Blood family in their plans to rebuild their slaughterhouse business after a fire.
* Were told by Degen that the idea of creating a new communications officer position at Town Hall was to be dropped. The notion came about following a complaint by local media that Haddad had been less than cooperative in answering questions about government activities. It was decided by himself and the town clerk, said Degen, that creating a communications officer position would not be appropriate. "Mr. Haddad can speak for himself," Degen said.