Budgets deserve a closer look

When it comes to Town Meeting, there’s always one, or maybe two, issues that will draw the bulk of the attention.

In Hancock this year, it was the plan to restore and upgrade the Meetinghouse, with voters agreeing to borrow somewhere between $625,000 and $817,000 (final number to depend on how many voluntary contributions come through). In Greenfield, a hot topic was whether to hire a third full-time police officer, a request that when it was approved took Police Chief Brian Giammarino by surprise; he hadn’t even calculated how much additional fuel would be required and he had to ask voters to boost his budget. In Jaffrey, voters devoted quite a bit of time to a discussion of the pros and cons of electronic balloting machines, before deciding that their current system and equipment work just fine. And in Francestown, voters eventually approved $350,000 for repairs to the Town Hall — far less than the $1 million the job is expected to cost, but a starting point that will hopefully enhance the town’s ability to get grant funding.

It’s great that people are willing to spend the time needed to thoroughly debate such issues. But we wonder if it sometimes comes at the expense of paying close attention to town budgets, which are, after all, the most costly items on the Town Meeting warrants.

In Dublin, some voters initially questioned the 2.5 percent raises in the town’s budget proposal, but an amendment to cut the budget was withdrawn before it ever even came to a vote, after voters were told the town’s overall expenditures would still be less than last year’s.

But in most other towns, budgets were quickly approved. In Hancock, for example, voters authorized an annual budget of nearly $2 million, which included 3 percent wage increases for town employees and was 2.75 percent higher than the 2013 budget, by a unanimous voice vote after not a single question for the Select Board. Similar results were seen in Jaffrey, Francestown and Greenfield and Dublin, with voters as a rule accepting assurances from Select Board members that wage increases were appropriate and well-deserved.

We’re sure they are, but it’s interesting that after voters rejected school district budgets for both ConVal and Jaffrey-Rindge, they were not as critical of town proposals that in some cases showed larger percentage increases than the schools did. Yes, it’s not really an apples to apples comparison. Yes, the school district budgets account for a much greater percentage of the tax burden. But town budgets should get just as much scrutiny as the school proposals. That didn’t happen in every town this year.

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