EDITORIAL: Driving At Night Without Headlights
After having approved $4.8 million for the new Senior Center by the narrowest of margins at last spring’s ballot, it now feels a bit like voters were "playe" - whether intentionally or not – by now being asked to pony up another $5.7 million for essential capital spending on this year’s spring’s ballot [$4.6 million for the DPW and $1.1 million for the library roof.]
The obvious question voters might ask themselves is why they were not apprised of these impending capital expenditures last year. The clear and obvious inference is, if voters had known that they would be asked for an even greater amount this year, they likely would not have approved funding the Senior Center. It is useful to remember that Senior Center funding passed by the narrowest of margins – only 12 votes.
We sympathize with Select Board member Alison Manugian’s frustration and principled position against funding these projects. She said, “I think, unfortunately, at this point in time we on the municipal side are not able to provide the community with a good understanding of what impacts these next couple projects will have on our perceived capital and other needs in the next few years.” She added that she was not confident that the town has been efficient with its capital spending.
Select Board member Manugian makes excellent points, speaking truth to an uncomfortable reality. But, despite the veracity of her analysis, these are not the right projects to draw a line in the sand.
Overall, the FinCom has done an outstanding job making town finances work. It is truly unfortunate that they did not, could not, or would not warn voters of these impending funding requests. If they didn’t know about these coming expenditures, why didn’t they know?
In order to make good decisions at the ballot box, voters need to have a larger view of looming capital expenditures at least five years ahead. Not knowing is like driving a car at night without headlights. Transparency of capital spending needs is especially important since the town will soon be asked to fund a replacement elementary school in the mid $30 million range. What other spending is being contemplated? Now is the time to make it known. This is a fundamental responsibility of our town government.
Despite all the confusion, lack of foresight and lack of fiscal transparency that mark the two override ballot questions, we encourage voters to approve both debt exclusions at the ballot box on May 21: the library roof and the DPW complex upgrades.
We believe that fixing the library roof and upgrading the DPW complex should be approved and not be held hostage by lingering voter dismay. These debt exclusions should pass by overwhelming majorities because it is the right thing to do. Funding these items goes to our basic values, our basic responsibility as a people and as a town.
The library roof fiasco is unfortunate. The debacle was not due to malfeasance, venality or misconduct but simple inexperience. It was an expensive lesson, but we have learned how to do it right as demonstrated by recent successful, high quality municipal construction. Let’s get the library fixed and move on.
Fixing the DPW complex is a must. Besides the obvious need to make the facility safe for town employees, there is also a certain moral equation everybody in town must weigh when considering their vote. Under Tom Delaney’s leadership, the DPW is legendary for its dedication and excellence. Plowing of Groton roads is superior to any of the surrounding towns. Year-after-year the DPW budget comes in under expectations to the point that we take its efficiency and cost effectiveness for granted.
Now it is our turn to step up and provide the basic resources the DPW needs to continue its excellent work.