Getting up to speed…
Well, its budget night at Town Meeting at long last. And, as any family who has sat down to do their books in the last year can attest – budgeting in the middle of a recession is just no fun. The numbers here are grim, too, with the town facing a $3.5m budget deficit and Town Meeting members, in general, ornery. So far, we’ve haggled over a $16,000 allocation to our newly elected Town Clerk to bring her salary into line with peer communities (that vote went down after warnings from both the Selectmen and Warrant Committee). Town Meeting members also wanted to get out the magnifying glass regarding the total cost of benefits offered to the few elected officers whose salaries are set by TM. Most of us haven’t had our salary set by public vote — and we should count ourselves lucky.
Now its getting on near 10:00pm and we’ve run aground over a $24,000 line item in Article 9 – the annual allocation for Capital projects in town. Seems the town wants to demolish the public tennis courts on Grove Street and patch the courts on Cross Street. This isn’t an issue i’ve been tracking, but according to residents, the Grove Street courts are badly cracked and the town, fearing for the safety of players, hasn’t put nets up on them for years, while lacking the funds to properly repair them. Now the Dept. of Recreation tells us that – surprise surprise – use of the courts is way down and they can be removed. Neighbors are outraged and feel blindsided by this proposal and the whole idea seems to have struck a chord (once again) with TM meeting members – this is somewhere we don’t want to go. I suggest that court repair (around $200k for each four court facility) be a public-private effort to some applause. With some clever motions, particularly by TM member Scali, the decision is made to reword the line item to put $24,100 towards tennis court repairs…and we move on.
The Don speaks
TM member Don Mercier preempts my question: the town is asking for around $112,000 total to replace vehicles including an 8 year old van for the police station, the material spreader for the highway, a pickup truck for the cemetary dept. and another for the Building Services department. Don’s question, like mine was about some line items for vehicle purchases – what’s the mileage on these vehicles and their general condition. The answers weren’t encouraging – the police van in question only has 40,000 miles on it. The cemetery truck only around 60,000. Both are said to be in bad shape and cheaper to replace than fix…but this speaks to the “building trust” issue – TM members clearly want more details on what’s broken with these. Some photos of the rust and decay if you will to seal the deal.
Now we’re on to other capital items — surveillance cameras for our elementary schools. This is one of those issues that you’re either for (avoidable risk, worth the cost, protecting our kids) or against (expensive, Big Brother, negligible risk). I’m a bit on the fence about it – I can certainly appreciate the need to have better access control for school buildings and this money helps centralize and automate control.
OK – so Article 9 passes and we adjourn till tomorrow evening. See you then!!