Pardon me while I vent my frustration.
One of the challenges we face during our local elections is getting an opportunity to really get into the issues facing the community, to explain why we have the best plan and challenge the opposition to explain their claims. Postcards, mailings and ads don’t do it for me. Yes we had two debates, but with formats that limit you to two minute responses and one minute to rebut the foolish platitudes coming from the other side there is no real delving into the facts behind the statements, the reality and the honesty of the representations made.
I don’t mean to lay it on the media, for those interested enough there are many opportunities where the candidates on both sides try to reach out, but in national and statewide elections not a day goes by where you don’t have at least one story in the media about a candidate’s positions or a challenge to them based on someone’s research. But for local races there is scant coverage. A voter guide where each candidate reports their own background and ideas is not a basis for people to make a real choice. This is why, I believe, people don’t participate in local elections; unless they personally know the candidates, unless they are already deeply involved in the local municipality or the politics, they have no bases for making informed choices. In the absence of such intelligence they decide to abstain. And who can blame them?
So in the interest of informing (and possibly inflaming the debate) let me touch on some of the major issues raised these past weeks and why I believe we have a better, or at least a more honest, position on them. As I see it the issues can be stated in three words, Spending, Taxes and Debt. Below are my views on these.
Spending: The opposition claims they will hold the line on spending increases. They have said the spending proposed over the past two years has been excessive. If they truly believe that why won’t they provide a single instance of what they would have done differently? The Republican candidates for Selectmen and Board of Finance have over 16 years experience working with Town budgets — certainly they should have the background to say what is or is not wasteful. But when asked they could offer no item they would have changed. When the Board of Selectmen voted on the last budget proposal Steve O’Reilly had a chance to propose alternatives. He declined. In fact he said he would not know what to cut. I can attest between the Board of Education, Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance the figures have been well scrubbed and there is no waste. What it boils down to is noise and sound bites and no real substance. In business I pay no attention to the chronic complainers, people who say something but are hard pressed to back it up with any facts. Credibility is given to those who have ideas and suggestions. In the absence of any it is clear the opposition is just pandering or hiding their real agenda. It is interesting to note that in the eight years Steve O’Reilly was on the Board of Finance, the only budget I recall he voted for was the one that reduced education spending.
Taxes: The opposition candidates for Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance say they want no tax increase. A worthy goal, but is it realistic? As noted above they have offered no substantive ideas on how they would achieve it. Are they being honest? I think not. Here are a couple of reasons why this is a pipe dream and what they are not telling you:
- Revaluation: Next year’s taxes will be based on a revalued Grand List. Taxes are apportioned to properties based on the relative values to the whole of all properties. So unless all property values changed by exactly the same percent, even if there is no change in spending, someone’s taxes will go up while others will go down. Realistically there is no way, under these circumstances to promise no change in taxes.
- Unmet needs: All of our opposition candidates characterize themselves as prudent businessmen. The town has many unmet (read unfunded) needs; Pension funds, long-term financing for roads and emergency vehicles, maintenance on our existing buildings and facilities. These are items that all prudent business people recognize need to be funded. In the last two budget proposals Bill Davidson and I proposed to begin funding these, however they have still not made it into our annual budget, cut by the Board of Finance. If the opposition is going to fulfill their promise of no tax increase they are either going to have to continue to kick these issues down the road or they are going to have to cut other items. They are either unaware of these challenges and therefore unprepared to meet them, or they are simply not being honest with you.
Debt: One of the critical differences between our vision for how we meet the
challenges outlined above and that of our opponents is how we use debt. Our opposition has said they would not use debt for financing the needs of the community. Our plan is consistent with good business practice; that debt, managed prudently, has a place in a good financial plan. We know that few if any of us make large purchases (our house or even our cars) with cash. Our goal is to hold the level of debt service constant using the difference between future declines in debt service and the current level to maintain our existing facilities, our parks, fields, buildings and other properties. Our opposition has said these are all “niceties” not real needs and they would allow them to fall into disrepair. They have no plan for maintaining them. Since eventually they will have to be addressed, again they are kicking the cost down the road.
During our time in office we have proven our commitment to the community:
- Investment in our roads.
- Replacement of Kids Kingdom.
- Sound management practices in Town Hall.
- Negotiated significant savings in employment costs.
- Expansion of infrastructure to expand the commercial tax base to keep residential property taxes low while enhancing your property values.
- Maintained a tax rate that is among the lowest in the state and the lowest of our surrounding towns.
In short, getting beyond the sound bites, the honest position is to say we will continue to be prudent with the funds you the taxpayers entrust to us. We will seek the best value for your tax dollar, being sure to be efficient and effective. We will create a sustainable business plan for maintaining our community so that it remains a place we want to live and raise our families.
Ok, so I vented. If you made it this far I appreciate your forbearance. Please remember to vote on Tuesday and support our candidates for Boards of Finance, Education and other land use Commissions. Every vote counts.