Towns, schools hope for presence
It is almost that time of year again – that time of year when town and school officials are, we believe, hopeful that more than the normal number of people will come to their deliberative sessions and discuss budgets and warrant articles.
Is it a vain and searching hope?
For the most part, yes.
Under this form of town decision-making, created years ago by Senate Bill 2, voting at the polls on warrant articles replaced town and school district meetings. The idea was that more people would participate in the process, and to some extent, that is true.
More people now cast votes on the budget and other warrant articles at the polls in March than previously went to town meetings. That’s a good thing. More participation is always desirable.
The problem is – and we mean no disrespect – many of the voters cast ballots without really understanding the issues. Many just look at numbers and vote "No" on the theory that the less a town or school district spends, the better it is for taxpayers. That is why it can take years for building projects to finally win approval, and when they do, they cost considerably more than they would have had they been approved in the first vote.
But many people don’t look at things long-term. They vote their immediate pocketbooks, perhaps on the theory that before a big expenditure is approved, they will have moved out of town.
When we had town meetings, there was discussion – sometimes far too much discussion – before a vote was taken, and that discussion could be, and often was, on every article in a town or school warrant. Sometimes, town meetings went two or even three nights. No one was fond of that, and that was at least part of the reason so many towns have adopted SB2.
But under that Senate bill, the only discussion that takes place is at a town or school budget hearing or at the inappropriately named deliberative sessions, at which there is not a heck of a lot of deliberation because not many folks bother to go and ask questions or make comments.
Indeed, at many local sessions, we see the same folks year in and year out – which is great; everyone’s glad to have them – but where the heck are the rest of you? Don’t you want to know why the town or school district is asking for money for something? Or, this year in the case of the Amherst selectmen, opting by a 3-2 vote not to support an additional police officer? How will you know if you aren’t at the deliberative session to ask?
There are so many things you could learn about the spending policies, the wants and the needs of your town and schools if you went and listened, spoke and asked questions. To simply go to the polls on March 8 and vote on your budget or a bunch of warrant articles without knowing the reasoning behind them really isn’t fair to your town or school district.
We know, we know: You’ve read all that before and it hasn’t brought you out to a deliberative session, so why do we go on about it every year?
Because we have faith. We have a dream that one day we’ll go to a deliberative session and find it so crowded that there isn’t enough room for everyone to sit, so you’ll be standing in the aisles and listening from the hallways and …
Hey, folks, it’s your town, it’s your school district, so get in there and ask the questions we know you’re dying to ask. Really. We know.