As I See It
By GUY CARON
Friday, November 19, 2010

Take the time to learn about the budget process

As the budget season gets into full swing in Goffstown, it has become more apparent to me as an elected member of the Budget Committee that many folks in town don't fully understand the budget process and how it all works.  Here are a few things residents should consider:

  • Did you know that since Goffstown is an SB-2 (Senate Bill 2) town, spending lines in our budgets are meaningless?  That means money assigned to a particular spending line can be spent on any other line at the discretion of department heads.  And in special instances, money can even be moved across entire departments, regardless of what the Budget Committee directed;

  • Did you know that our town and school budgets often contain appropriations for personnel who do not exist?  This is especially true in the school budget which often contains many lines for teaching positions that are either vacant or proposed as new additions.  Keep that in mind when you hear people complain that the Budget Committee "cut teachers".  Most often, we've done nothing of the kind.  Instead, we've cut appropriations assigned to those empty positions, and no teachers are eliminated.

  • Did you know that SAU 19's administration budget accounts for over $1.1 million of the overall school budget, but cannot be adjusted by the Budget Committee? 

  • Did you know that even if the Budget Committee denies a request for spending on a particular item, the item can be purchased anyway using money designated for other items?

  • Did you know that prior to the March vote, the Budget Committee presents its proposed budgets at a January public hearing?  That's where the public can ask questions and make their opinions known to the Budget Committee.  And after taking public input at that hearing into consideration, the Budget Committee makes its final adjustments to the budgets, then presents them to voters at town and school deliberative sessions in early February.

  • Did you know that at those at deliberative sessions, the Budget Committee's budgets can be adjusted up or down by the public prior to the March vote?  And those changes then appear on the ballot in March.  That means the miniscule percentage of voters who actually attend deliberative sessions (I've seen as few as a dozen attendees) can make changes to the budgets that affect over 12,000 registered voters come March?  So it's not only important to come out and vote in March, but also to attend these early February deliberative sessions and vote there as well.  Otherwise, the disparity between the proposed and default budgets you will be choosing between could be virtually non-existent.

  • Did you know that the proposed school budget presented to the Budget Committee contains over 1,200 specific line items, and that those line items are only roll-ups from hundreds of other, more detailed lines?

  • Did you know that the largest town-side budget is the Public Works budget, and the smallest is Parks and Recreation?

Another point needs to be made about our budget process:  As advocates for the Goffstown taxpayers, the Budget Committee does not simply "...decrease the budget randomly" as was stated by a member of the public at our last meeting.  If it were that simple, we could get the entire process over with very quickly by just throwing a dart and heading home for the rest of the year.  To the contrary, the Budget Committee, a group of four appointed members and twelve unpaid, elected volunteers, deliberate for hours on end, sometimes over minor budget line items, to arrive at a practical, affordable and sensible budget - a very difficult thing to achieve during these trying financial times. 

I have already spent nearly fifty hours of my personal time - beyond committee meetings - scrutinizing and analyzing the budgets presented to us, line by line, as many other committee members are also doing.  We don't do it because we enjoy it.  We do it because it is what we were elected to do.  We do it because it is our responsibility to come up with a budget that 1) is affordable to the taxpayers, and 2) does not compromise services to residents.  

As one can imagine, this is a delicate and difficult balancing act, and in the end, the Budget Committee will never please everyone.  But residents should be reminded that whatever budgets the committee does come up with in the end will be budgets that were developed after exhaustive exercises that the average resident does not engage in.  

That's why you elected us to do it for you.  That's why you put your trust in us to represent your best interests.

Over the next two months or so, special interests on both sides of our town and school budgets will line up opposite each other, all spouting quotes, statistics and studies that support their respective points of view.   Few will be based in fact.  Familiar scare tactics by both will be dusted off for reuse and be shouted from the top of Mt. Uncanoonuc.  Some will say we are over-policed, others will point to increasing crime nationwide.  Others will say our student-teacher ratio is unacceptable while others will point to government studies indicating the opposite.  In the end, none of it matters.

All that will matter are the numbers.  Numbers don't lie. 

Would I like to see a fire station on every block and a police officer on every corner?  Sure.  Would I prefer a student-teacher ratio of 1-to-1 and new computers every year for each student?  Absolutely.

If we can afford it.

There are many more intricacies involved in Goffstown's budget process than those I've outlined here.  To learn more, every member of the Budget Committee stands ready to answer any questions you may have.  Just visit www.goffstown.com for a listing of all 16 members.

And if you'd like to contact me personally, I can be reached anytime at GuyCaron@comcast.net or by phone at 497-5900. 

The more knowledge you have about the process, the better you will understand how the budgets you're voting on were derived, and the more informed vote you will be casting. 

 




Guy Caron can be reached via e-mail at: GuyC@GoffstownResidentsAssociation.com

Past Columns by Guy Caron  >>>

 


DISCLAIMER:  The opinions expressed by Mr. Caron are not necessarily those of the Goffstown Residents Association or its members.


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