Letter: Thoughts on the Budget

To the Editor:

I’d like to offer some thoughts and comments relative to the subject meeting [the April 2 budget hearing], where the BoS, BoF and BoE reviewed the latest iteration of the town’s budgets for the 2024-2025 fiscal year and then took comments and statements from the audience, which, I would guess, numbered about 100 people.

1. It was obvious to me, and to many in the audience (judging from their comments) that the process by which the various boards go about building their requests is guided by a philosophy that says “let’s try to keep the increase in the budget as low as possible” as opposed to a philosophy that says “let’s try to find ways to reduce spending so that next year’s budget is less then the current year actual spend.” I think the current approach is wrong-headed; you should start from a zero-based approach or, at least, from what the actual spending was in the prior year and then focus on what we NEED to spend in the next year.

2. There ought to be much more focus on what needs to be done versus on what we would like to do. Dog parks are nice as are pickleball courts and sidewalks but we don’t need them. Just because we have “found” federal and state money, and just because people are willing to donate for certain projects, doesn’t mean we should spend it. Capital projects come with a long operating tail. As a specific point I recently parked at the town center one morning and spent over 4 hours looking to see who used the sidewalk. The answer was no one, not one walker! As one audience member pointed out 90% of the town doesn’t live within walking distance of the center and municipal complex; they are not going to drive to the center of town to take a walk.

3. When do we confront the fact that school enrollment has dropped by about 450 students over the last 14 years, school performance has declined as measured by test scores and yet school staffing levels have continued to grow? Isn’t 1 superintendent, 1 assistant superintendent, a bunch of directors, 4 building principals and 5 assistant principals a little top heavy? It also seems that there are a lot of “overlay” positions that do not directly interface with students. How do we measure the benefit of this structure?

4. In a similar way, why do we need 4-6 additional FTE’s at town hall when we just hired a new town administrator whose defined role encompasses many of the duties of these new FTEs?

As the moderator brought the meeting to a close he thanked the Boards for their hard work and attendance and the audience for their/our participation. He then said, and I loosely quote here “that 50% of the audience’s comments were legitimate.” Were the other 50% illegitimate?

I hope the majorities on the BoS, BoF and BoE were really listening.

Carl Urbania

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