By Gregory T. Federspiel
Budgets, bylaw amendments, additional bans on plastics, a fluoridation vote, acceptance of a gift of land for conservation purposes – this and more will be before voters at the Annual Town Meeting. Scheduled for this Monday, April 1, beginning at 7 p.m. in the gymnasium of the Memorial Elementary School, the meeting promises to be a full evening of debate and decision making by the community.
Each household should have received the Annual Report and the Finance Committee Report this past weekend via the yellow bags the Scouts delivered door to door. If you did not, you can pick up a copy here at Town Hall or find the reports on the Town’s web site. The Finance Committee Report contains all 20 articles as well as the recommendations of the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen. Please be sure to bring these reports with you to Monday’s meeting. Have a question? Feel free to contact me prior to Monday evening.
Town Meeting affords a unique opportunity for residents to come together as a community to engage in decision making that has a direct impact on our quality of life. As a Town with an Open Town Meeting form of governance, residents come together as the legislative body of the Town. It is the votes at Town Meeting that determine the amount of spending departments are allowed as they deliver the municipal services residents decide they want. While a lot of work has been put into developing the proposed budgets, voters can decide to increase or decrease the amounts through amendments made during Town Meeting.
And budgets matter. Service levels and the condition of our infrastructure are dependent on the funds voters decide to make available. As mentioned in earlier articles and further elaborated in the Finance Committee Report, the proposed operating budgets for the upcoming fiscal year basically maintain current levels of service both for the Town and the School District. The big increases come in the capital budgets – for the School District, the previously approved bonds for the new elementary school require a substantial increase in debt payments; for the Town, an accelerated effort to improve the water pipes, paid for by using the Town’s fund balance, also causes a large increase in capital spending.
Our local bylaws determine our processes that we use, the regulations we impose and, in the case of plastic bans and fluoride use, the products we may want to avoid using. Here, too, we see the direct impacts on the quality of life in our corner of the world. These decisions shape the future of our community, decisions that each voter has an opportunity to influence.
I believe in the power of local decision making and the possibilities that each Town Meeting presents. Through an engage citizenry that comes together to debate and engage in civil discourse how we should conduct our civic affairs, we have a direct hand in creating the community we collectively desire. There will always be differences of opinion on just what is the collective desire and how best to achieve it. But this is healthy! The more robust a debate is the more we can trust the final outcome because the various sides of an issue have been aired and final decisions are being made in full view of the pros and cons of a particular decision.
This is why I always look forward to a Town Meeting. It is more than just a civic duty to attend – it is a real opportunity to create and shape our corner of the world. I hope you can share this enthusiasm – just think what we can do if everyone does! See you Monday night.