Michael Harris, Hollis Budget Committee candidate
Hollis Budget Committee – two seats, three-year term
Name: Michael Harris
Address: 158 Pepperell Road, Hollis.
Contact information: Michael_harris@tds.net.
Years of residency: We have lived in Hollis for 29 years.
Family: Married for 39 years to wife Ruth; two grown sons, graduates of Hollis public schools with successful careers, and four delightful grandchildren.
Occupation: Retired from 40-year career in Defense Electronics/Satellite Payload Engineering for Defense Contractors.
Education: Clark University, Worcester, Mass., BA Chemistry, Psychology.
Political history: 1986-95 Hollis School Board; 1992-98, Hollis/Brookline Cooperative School Board; 1997-present, Hollis Budget Committee.
Affiliations: Temple Beth Abraham, Nashua, member Board of Directors.
Question 1: What would you do as a member of the Budget Committee to increase fiscal responsibility for the town and the Hollis School District?
The Budget Committee has the challenging task of finding the balance between preserving quality of life and level of services experienced by Hollis residents and the need to keep costs for our town affordable. Responsible governance requires that we provide for the public safety and maintain our public infrastructure such as buildings and roads, which are less glamorous expenditures, but still necessary. In order to resolve this tension in a fiscally prudent way, we need to identify and eliminate structural elements in the budget that add to our expenses while not adding value to the mission of providing services. Examples include: restructuring our special education program to reduce expensive external placements while providing more inclusive, high quality in-district services; reduction of administrative positions at the schools while protecting classroom teachers or re-negotiating union contracts to limit town liability for future expenditures. Some of these changes require considerable persistence and occur over time but can have an enormous on-going impact on the tax rate. None of these solutions represent the “slash and burn” approach to budgeting, but they have allowed us to weather the recent economic turmoil with our services intact and our tax rate stable over the last five years.
Question 2: What steps would you take to ensure all residents’ needs are taken into account when developing the budgets?
The voters at the Town or District meetings and their elected representatives on the Board of Selectmen or School Board determine policies and establish which services to provide for the residents of Hollis. The Budget Committee determines the budgets necessary to provide the services requested by the voters and their representatives and makes recommendations regarding all expenditure articles. In order to ensure that all residents’ considerations are taken into account, the Budget Committee, and I as a member, listen to the public, observe economic trends, construct predictive revenue and expenditure forecasts, and evaluate fiscal metrics to establish budget targets for the town and school district. We also look at the sustainability of labor polices and collective bargaining agreements. The Budget Committee conducts public hearings, listens to public feedback and works very closely with the Board of Selectmen and School Board to establish budgets that meet residents’ needs within established fiscal constraints. The process works best when the resolution of the tension between the desire for additional expenditures/services and the need to maintain the infrastructure and fiscal restraint to protect the tax rate is worked out by the elected bodies and presented in a unified way to the voters for their approval.