Catching up on all things Grafton after taking a summer-long leave of absence from writing:
- First, my apologies for going silent for a few months in this forum. After town meeting, work got really busy, and then the summer hit and…well… it was nice to take some time away from Grafton’s internal politics. I needed a break. But holy cow, five months? No more slacking, I promise.
- But the summer wasn’t all quiet and non-productive. On June 6, Grafton’s accountant, Anita Patel, wrote to me requesting that I meet with her and Dan Gale from the School Department to discuss creating a financial forecasting model for Grafton. I had been calling for one for a while now so that Grafton residents would have an idea of our possible long term financial condition, and would be able to plan, and vote, accordingly.
This was incredibly exciting to me, and personally was validating to know that at least someone appeared to be listening to calls to apply best practices to town management and finances.
So, Anita, Dan and I met twice this summer. We identified and agreed upon income sources, expenditures, and variables. As to the variables, such as new growth, state funding and healthcare costs, we were conservative in our estimates but fair to the administration’s reasonable expectations.
I had insisted we estimate school costs by increasing their budget at 5.25% per year over the course of the forecast because that’s how much the program’s budget had increased annually from 2014 forward, giving Grafton students and families a level of service we’ve come to anticipate. And the idea behind a forecast is, of course, to give you an idea of what happens in the future if you keep doing what you’re doing now. But when Superintendent Jay Cummings said he was budgeting for an anticipated lower 4% (or so) figure next year, I asked Ms. Patel to run the numbers at 4%.
Recently, I asked the Town Administrator if we could present our five-year projections at the October 16 Town Meeting. Strangely, after that request, the Town Administrator told me that this entire project was not a valuable use of time, and that any numbers presented would not be sanctioned by his office.
This is strange, because the numbers came from his office, as did the initial request to engage in this project. It seems unlikely, then, that town residents will see five year projections at town meeting to better inform their votes.
It’s funny, you look around at national politics and think, “Wow, this stuff is insane. I can’t believe people can’t get together on common sense solutions for the common good.” And then I do this stuff and I can’t even deliver on five year projections for you guys.
- Speaking of the schools, I’m a reasonably smart person, but someone’s going to have to explain to me how we expect to maintain the same level of service we give our students now in the face of 20% less annual budget growth, all in the face of rising costs and a brand-new teachers’ contract.
How is this possible? I have it on good authority we can probably make it work for a year, but then start to see significant reductions in the program thereafter. If you have kids in the schools, this should alarm you. Translation: I have kids in the schools. This alarms me.
- We’re hoping to obtain some cost savings by negotiating more favorable terms from a new health insurance provider. The news around the state on healthcare costs, however, is not favorable, as indicators seem to be trending in the wrong direction.
- In order to stave off the inevitable budget strain that comes from rising costs, but limited tax income through Proposition 2.5, communities try and emphasize business growth, the income from which is outside the scope of Prop 2.5’s limits. Along those lines, Grafton is taking steps at this town meeting to spur development not only along Route 30, but all over town.
Article 33 in this year’s town warrant would fund a part-time Economic Development Coordinator. Although the specifics on what this person would be doing on a day-to-day basis are sparse, there clearly is a need given our present economic forecast to have someone dedicated to this work when either the Town Administrator or the Town Planner, Joe Leydon, can’t get to it. The Economic Development Committee has given this proposal their support, and the Finance Committee voted favorably for it as well.
Article 37 would create a North Grafton Transit Village Overlay District to promote development of the old State Hospital property on Pine Street. The idea is to create a “smart growth” transit village located near the train station that would re-use existing structures on the site. By creating smaller housing units, mixed with walkable businesses, located near transit, Grafton could create exactly the kind of sorely-needed growth that won’t unreasonably strain our present infrastructure.
- Yet another reason to embrace long term financial forecasting. If in 2014 we had looked ahead to 2019 and realized that we would need more economic growth once the levy space generated by the 2014 override disappeared, we might’ve done all of this back then. It was an opportunity lost, in my opinion. Ostrich Syndrome is costly.
- There also are a few interesting proposed changes to Grafton’s charter in this fall’s annual warrant. One would make the Town Clerk an appointed rather than elected position. The other would make members of the Planning Board appointed rather than elected as well.
With regard to the Town Clerk, I always thought it was somewhat funny that the position was an elected one. Electing the Clerk always seemed to add a layer of politics that really had nothing to do with the job description.
On the other hand, over the years I’ve grown accustomed to a certain degree of independence that the Clerk has from the town administration. I’ve also grown somewhat weary of the spectre of appointed town jobs being filled not by the best and most qualified applicant, but by whomever a Selectman or administrator knows. Or by whomever may simply be loyal.
That said, as a member of Finance Committee, I voted in favor of the change to Town Clerk. Mostly because we’re entering an era where the job is becoming more technical, and the qualifications for the position in the future may matter a lot.
That argument did not persuade me on the Planning Board front, however. It’s important that members of the Planning Board be independent from the administration. Planning Board isn’t just another land use committee. They are charged with determining how your community will be put together. Independence from the political agenda of the day is crucial for effective long-term planning.
- Finally, I love this time of year, but when did yelling constantly throughout your kids’ soccer games become a thing? They can hear you, you know. The volume and consistancy of your voice has no direct correlation with whether they start playing like Pele. Geeze.