Look to balance, in cost savings
Every taxpayer is grateful when they have a governing body that is looking out for their best interests, both financially and when it comes to the level and quality of services provided to residents. The key is knowing what the balance is between the two.
Sometimes the decision is easy. When the Temple Select Board realized they were losing a few hundred dollars a year to keep the boiler in the Town Hall on during the summer months, they made the decision to turn it off. It can be turned back on for those that need it with merely a few hours notice, and about $400 per year stays in the town coffers. No one loses either financially or in services, making it an easy choice.
Last year, Wilton-Lyndeborough School District voters decided that the financial savings and access to better facilities — such as a full-sized gym and a bigger library — were worth the cost of consolidating the district’s elementary schools. The pot was recently made sweeter by the WLC School Board negotiating a bond purchase at a much lower rate than anticipated, saving the district $3.4 million.
Sometimes the decision is less clear cut, however. During a recent Wilton Select Board meeting, Select Board member Rick Swanson said he is seeking areas to streamline the budget for the Wilton Police Department, to accommodate anticipated salary raises without raising the overall tax rate. The only give, according to Police Chief Brent Hautanen, would be to sacrifice personnel or services.
Perhaps that’s not a sacrifice Wilton is in a position to make; it’s not clear. The board should consider whether the current level of police service provided is appropriate for the town. If it is, perhaps there really is no more fat to cut from the Police Department, as Hautanen says, without hitting bone and removing more than is wise. But at least the questions have been asked and the answers weighed.
Even if the Wilton police budget is destined to go up in the coming year, we applaud the eye for responsible fiscal management with which Swanson and the Wilton Select Board views their town’s budget. And whether the savings is only a few hundred dollars in fuel oil, or millions on a wise bond decision, all school and municipal boards should be constantly asking if there is a way to save their taxpayers money.
Just keep in mind that sometimes the reality of cutting costs results in cutting services, and we should be wary before taking that step.