Thursday, September 20, 2007

FY09 Priorities

Sent: Thursday, September 20, 2007 6:30:20 PM
To: Select Board
Subject: FY 09 budget guidelines

Dear Select Board:

I am finding it inordinately difficult to know how to respond to your invitation for public comment. I would expect -- in fact, I would hope -- that comments from Town Meeting members and others who have been closely involved with budget struggles for some time would differ significantly from the comments offered by members of the public who have not been paying much attention and will primarily voice personal wishes. And while that is natural, I am concerned about the comparative weight you may be inclined to give to each. Moreover, since the number of closely involved citizens is inevitably smaller than the general public, the potential danger exists that taking primarily personal requests and demands out of the overall context of our current situation may further jeopardize adequate funding for our core services. I do hope that you will not allow that to happen.

I'm not suggesting that nothing but the "core" matters. What I am suggesting is that adequate, even minimal, support for the "core" should not be reduced to fund other programs and services we treasure, when we may not be able to afford these to the extent we have in the past.

Here's my view of the "core":

1. Public Safety:

The Police Department must have the two officers and support staff restored. The officers: Please remember the Police Chief's plea that these cuts would be "devastating," and be aware that he has consistently understated, not dramatized, the needs for his department. I have never heard him use such language before. I think that the Town Manager fully understands, but in his budget strategy last year misjudged the political reaction to his proposal. Please encourage his support of staffing in both public safety departments in your guidelines; for FY 09, that primarily applies to Police, since the Fire Department lost no positions this year.

Support staff: Right now, the Police Chief has no secretary, and his payroll is being done in Town Hall, whose Finance Department just lost another full-time position, in addition to staff cuts in that department in prior years.

Point of information and perspective: As newer members may not be aware, hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment acquisition by a variety of departments have been saved over the years thanks to the Police Department's initiative to procure quality used vehicles for the Town from auctions and other sources .

2. General Government

This is the area utterly taken for granted, and often the first one targeted for cuts that are assumed to be inconsequential. Of course, it is easy to understand why the public would be unaware of what people do in the back offices on the first floor of Town Hall: Most are largely invisible and unknown. And yet, they are the ones who project, collect, invest, manage, and account for our resources, to the tune of between $60 and $70 million a year. Together, the staff of the first floor in a way keeps the Town running and on an even keel. The public cannot be expected to understand the inner workings of these departments; but the Select Board should articulate to the Town Manager their awareness of the importance of having these services rendered well; support the restoration of positions like the one currently lost in the Finance Department; and resist any further reductions in support, in the interest of ensuring that the small number of employees charged with providing these essential services are not overtaxed to the point where the quality of their work may be compromised, or good people become too discouraged and overstressed to continue to work for the Town.

3. DPW: It is ironic that this may well be the department uppermost in the public's sense of services they depend on: whether they complain of potholes or want traffic-calming devices installed, or lines painted, or sidewalks repaired or plowed, it's all the job of -- or one more job for -- the DPW. Highways, trees, cemeteries, sewers, drinking water -- people know about and depend on all of them. And yet the budget for this department is one of the leanest in town, and has been for years, thanks to the good management and ingenuity and willingness-to-make-do of the Superintendent. So when Guilford Mooring indicates that his resources are stretched to the limit, as he did to the Finance Committee last spring, I would urge the Select Board to take that into serious account in their guidelines to the Town Manager. He should be asked to review thorougly, as he makes his budget recommendations for that department, what it is possible for the department to do, and what is being neglected, because of inadequate resources.

I will not attempt to prioritize the rest of the services we provide.
I deeply appreciate them all and want to see them preserved and fostered to the extent possible. I do think the guiding criterion needs to be the extent to which they are considered to be municipal functions or responsibilities.

But the three above I think should be basic in your guidelines to the Town Manager. I know you won't all agree, but I hope some of you will.

As to the envisioned economic development director: I continue to think that is an excellent idea, depending on how the financial situation evolves.

In any case, I hope you will instruct the Town Manager that, in building his budget, he should assume a) no use of reserves and b) the use of no less than 8% of the levy for capital expenditures in FY 09, with a multi-year goal of increasing that to about 10% of the levy.

Thanks for reading.

Eva S

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