The budget meeting was fairly well attended, not hundreds, but enough to almost fill the firehall.
We were reminded by the mayor to maintain the “ultimate” in decorum “at least as well as last night”. [We suppose that this time this stricture applied to the “table” as well as the gallery as speakers were treated with some respect.]
Then there was another statement by the deputy mayor meant to correct serious “misapprehensions” or “untruths” which are floating around. You remember, if you were there, that he made a statement at the last PSPAC meeting denying that there was any conflict of interest, legally speaking, by members of the panel as had been suggested in some resident produced material. This time the allegation that rankled was the suggestion that perhaps a forensic audit was in order. It is always interesting to see where the opposition places his strongest defense. Often it is at his weakest spot.
After 45 minutes of the CAO presentation on how much of the budget was out of the Town’s control and a similar mind numbing litany of explanations of line items in the Capital budget and the Water Utilities budget by the Town clerk, the assembled townspeople finally had a chance to speak up against some of the excesses in the operating budget. It seemed staff really didn’t want to talk about the part it could control as it offered no explanations or defense of these line items, instead throwing them on the mercy of the citizens court, so to speak.
There were some great comments and questions from some of the residents in attendance: here’s a bit of a paraphrase.
Some suggested cuts could come in Conference expenses (for Staff and Council), employee wellness perks (go the the public health everyone else does!) and salary expenditures (how many employees does the town have anyway and how many bodies have been added in the last few years?). Some thought computer expenses out of line (does a small town really need to spend $100,000 on computer expenses every year?), some saw grants to the farmers market as a bit rich (why does the farmers market get two grants of $10,000 plus $200,000 put aside in the capital budget for an imagined building which hasn’t even had approval in principle by Council?). Some protested so much expenditure on the environmental file, and some protested the BOT reduction not being given back to business. But some just got up and said ENOUGH is ENOUGH!!!! And they were all right!
Perhaps not surprisingly after this verbal horse whipping (that’s just a metaphor!) 3 Council members spoke up [they seemed prepared] and said this draft was way too rich for their blood. MacKay, Simpson and mayor-in-waiting Wrye all basically told staff to take it back and cut it back to flat rate levels. Councillor Segado agreed …we think. The CAO didn’t say this was impossible, in fact he didn’t look all that surprised. We think we heard him say it would be possible to bring it back to an increase of only 2 or 3% .
We should be pleased with this result but we aren’t. You know why? Because the real answer to the Town’s problems lies elsewhere. Our prescription still stands. And in order for most of these and other changes to be embraced we see no alternative but new blood.