Comment by a viewer on the May 17th Town Meeting
With all of the rain and the futility of trying to mow; I decided to watch the Town meeting of last night. I have to confess that it’s far more comfortable to endure at home than at town hall.
Having said that, I came away with some observations that constitute a common theme. It usually doesn’t get very interesting until the public comment and question portion. It is during that time that voices can be heard for the obligatory 3 minutes and is generally pretty revealing.
There was discussion of the budget and how it specifically related to the police department. It seems that the town is down to 2.5 police and a number of folks in the audience were not altogether happy about that; feeling that it would translate to reduced public safety.
Apparently, police calls for service were up 22 percent, yet there is a 37 percent reduction in coverage. Annette May questioned what seems to be a surplus of about 42 thousand that has been assigned to the Miscellaneous category of the proposed budget somewhere on page 9. Her comment of, ” miscellaneous that’s miscellaneous – don’t know where that’s coming from” was explained by the town manager, ” that could come from anywhere”. I love those concrete answers! Seriously though, when significant numbers appear in the Misc column with regularity or repetition, it becomes sort of like the office wastebasket and becomes difficult or impossible to track down.
It seems that there is money being saved from the reduction of police salaries to the tune of about 138 thousand (according to Annette’s ciphering of the proposed budget). This begged her to ask, “Where is the money going”? I confess, it had me starting to wonder too.
The focus then shifted somewhat to the hiring of a full time custodian with a cost of 34 thousand. It may very well be that the town needs a full time person in this position and I can certainly understand that. I think the crux of the matter boils down to the concern of cutting back on police to fund full time custodial service. Councilwoman Andrews remarked, “So, we’re cutting essential services for discretionary spending”. That had a certain bite.
As several other people in the audience spoke, the same concern was reiterated. There was another question about Miscellaneous expense line items going from one thousand last year to 48 thousand for this years’ budget. Mayor Jones explained that this money is “partially left over in case we decide to do something with the police department”. Without having the budget proposal in front of me, I was wont to know if this was another one of those nebulous Miscellaneous expenses. Having looked at Town budgets in past years, I suspect that is likely.
Whatever the absolutes in numbers; it seemed that those who spoke up wanted to see another police officer and it seems that there may be the money to do that – perhaps by raiding the multiple Miscellaneous funds. There wasn’t much objection to a full time custodian who could serve as a kind of maintenance man about town. I think that is not a bad idea myself.
Moving on, the elephant in the room came in the form of Mark Einstein; who with his customary graciousness, suggested that after 20 years, it may be germane to discuss the need to raise taxes slightly. If the Town is realizing a fiscal squeeze that doesn’t appear to be going anywhere it may prove a necessity. Dave May seconded that emotion. The discussion went no further, but it is a reality that may need to be seriously addressed in the near future.
Mark then shifted gears to ask the question about the events permit and rules. It seems that the paperwork is a bit cumbersome and boilerplate. As most know, Mark and Suzanne are the founders and shakers of Pirates and Wenches. This whole event permit thing evolved with P&W somehow the focus. After some discussion, Mayor Jones and Ron Fithian were willing to revisit, review and possibly redraft the permit. Ron stated that it is really directed at new events, not those as established as Pirates and Wenches. That is a good thing and proof that life sometimes makes a bend in the road.
“Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest”. Mark Twain
Click below to view the Rock Hall proposed budget