JULY 2, 2010
Give voters a real choice this year 

To the Editor:

I've done a little analysis using data from the annual town reports, available here. Click here to view is a spreadsheet I've compiled of town and school budgets since 2003, and other related data (town data is on the first sheet, school on the second). Here are some interesting points I extracted:

  • The average budget increase from one year to the next is about 5% for both the school district and the town
  • Only once has a school or town budget been proposed that was lower than the previous year's (the school proposed a meager 0.47% reduction in 2009)
  • Voters have always approved the proposed budgets for both school and town when:
  • the proposed budget was higher than the default budget (12 proposals), voters grudgingly approved it by an average margin of 56%
  • the proposed budget was lower than the default budget (4 proposals), voters approved by an average of 72%

Regarding voter inclinations, this is probably as you would expect (who asks for higher taxes when given a choice?). But with all the talk of the services that residents "demand" and their unwillingness to sacrifice, it would appear that they nevertheless overwhelmingly approve of proposed budget reductions. They have, however, never been presented with the option of a substantive budget reduction (at least not in the last 7 years). 

I suggest that we finally give voters that choice this year, with proposed budgets significantly lower than last year's (at least 10% lower). It is entirely possible that those who want lower budgets (myself included) are wrong that they represent a majority of residents. Perhaps, when given this choice, voters would opt for the much larger default budget instead. In fact, those who believe that we shouldn't reduce spending are free to campaign for the default budget, and maybe they will prevail. 

Even if the lower budgets are adopted, consider this: if the proponents of larger budgets are correct that there will be a public outcry, then they have nothing to fear--the cuts would become nothing more than a temporary blip in an otherwise uninterrupted record of growth, as huge increases would surely be approved the following year. 

Also consider this: at my company, we saw a 17% reduction in revenue between 2005 and 2010. For reference, this would be akin to the current town budget being $13.4 million instead of its current $19.7 million, and the school district's budget being $24.5 million instead of $35.6 million. 

How did we address this? Well, among other measures, we implemented a 28% reduction in payroll and associated benefits via layoffs and hours reductions. In 2005, payroll plus benefits and related taxes comprised 78% of my company's operating costs. In 2010, it was 29%. My company is not exactly a statistical anomaly in a generally booming private sector. These kinds of revenue losses and corresponding cuts to operating costs are the norm right now. I would be interested in digging up similar numbers on the school district and town to see how they compare. 

What we do know is that during the same period (2005-2010) the town enjoyed a hefty 22% increase in its budget, just ahead of the school district's 21% increase. I urge everyone to help tether our town to reality by supporting budgets that represent a bold departure from the usual yearly bloat. 

Paul Augros


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