A closer look now could save towns
It’s January, and municipal and school district budget processes are well underway. There’s a lot to sort out and make sense of, for both town officials and residents. And the best course is for governing boards and committees to present, not only the rationale for why voters should approve various projects, but also their long-term consequences. For voters, involvement in the process is key. A number of examples bear this out.
In January 2013, after more than a year of planning to convert Rindge’s budget to align its fiscal year with that of the state, townspeople raised concerns about the cost. Taxpayers would have had to put up the money for a one-time, 18-month budget in 2013. Instead, Select Board member Roberta Oeser moved to include a warrant article to rescind the 18-month budget, which was passed at the polls. And the town set about preparing a 12-month budget, which was then approved at a Special Town Meeting in July.
In the end, voters got what they wanted, but it took a long time, as well as a lot of effort on the part of municipal employees, to achieve the desired end — not to mention being without a budget for the first sevens months of the year. Better communication between the town and voters from the start may have spared everyone a lot of trouble, and that communication is a two-way street.
Greenfield is faced with holding a Special Town Meeting on Jan. 18 to clear up confusion and concerns associated with the town’s plan to remove sand and gravel from the town-owned lot next to Greenvale Cemetery. According to one of the residents who petitioned to hold the meeting, Bob Brown, many voters were confused at Town Meeting in March 2013 when they approved a plan to allow the DPW to use the lot near the cemetery. Again, it seems, communication was lacking.
In May 2011, Peterborough voters approved spending $1.2 million on a revamped pool. And in summer 2013, just as those improvements were completed, residents learned that, in addition to those upgrades, they’d also have to pay to use the pool. A Peterborough family’s season pass costs $40. It’s those details that often get lost when town officials are selling their budgets and warrant articles.
A similar thing came to light in Wilton recently. We wonder how many people realized last year, when voters approved a $1.7 million addition and renovations to the fire station, that it would mean $10,000 more annually in operation costs. Wilton also had a snafu in coordinating who would take up the charge this year of having an engineering study for the New Reservoir Dam — something the N.H. Department of Environmental Services has been calling for to address deficiencies in the dam — after voters approved $16,000 for the work at Town Meeting 2013.
Going forward, we hope the lessons of 2013, as well as years past, will be heeded.