EDITORIAL: Going Rogue On Town Budget
Ignoring clear operational guidance from Selectmen and the Fincom, Town Manager Haddad created his own ‘vision’ for a town budget. The Fincom told him to produce a budget with no more than three percent growth, while Selectmen told him to produce a budget that maintains current service levels.
Instead, the Town Manager decided - on his own - to create an ‘alternative’ budget with about $800,000 in additional public safety spending, resulting in an approximate $200 in property tax increase for the average homeowner, if approved. His freelancing makes creating sustainable municipal spending without regular overrides much harder.
Spending on public safety services is a highly emotional subject. Emotion, brinkmanship and unsupported rhetoric can warp commonsense decision-making, convincing voters to shrug their shoulders and acquiesce to ill-considered spending proposals. Therefore, proposals for huge spending increases for public safety services should always take place in a careful, non-emotional environment where accurate data can be evaluated and discussed forthrightly.
The recently completed Audit of Town Operations indicates that the Police Department is adequately manned and funded in comparison to benchmark towns. In fact, the audit suggests, there is some excess time available in the department that could be better utilized. The municipal audit was widely praised for being professional and well done. So, why – without any additional comment or analysis – would Haddad propose adding five people to the police department? It doesn’t make sense without having conducted a full, fair and public discussion and explanation of the need.
The Fire Department was not included in the municipal audit because they were conducting a separate intensive audit by an outside firm. The results of the Fire Audit report are being finalized and have not been presented to Selectmen or the public for explanation, analysis and comment. It simply does not make sense to propose huge additional Fire Department spending until we have seen the results of the Department’s audit and had a chance to digest, understand and discuss it.
Public safety services are a fundamental town obligation. But, even public safety needs fair, open discussion and understanding before considering massive spending increases.
The Town Manager’s tossing out a huge budget increase without prior discussion or analysis is a provocative act which undermines the budget process and robs citizens of the ability of and the wider town government to come to a consensus on how our tax money can be wisely spent.