I’m not voting for an override if one is proposed in 2019. Just so we’re all clear.
Has an override been proposed? Not formally, no. Has it been discussed amongst people in a position to push for one? Sure it has. And I’m out.
Not because we won’t need one. I know enough about our financial projections for the next few years to know that the next two years in particular could be rough – as I predicted in 2016. But since predicting this situation several years ago, we simply have not done any of the hard work necessary to isolate cost drivers, and do the kind of community-wide, transparent inquiry that we would need to propose solutions. And, even failing solutions, to determine the course of the community for decades to come.
Instead, we’ve simply demurred. Kicked the can down the road some. In the six months that I’ve been a Selectman, we’ve basically just voted on one-day liquor licenses, approved appointments and chastised the School Committee for spending too much. It’s not exactly a recipe for success.
The situation that we face now – an inability to pay for the same schools and municipal services next year as we do this year – has been years coming. And still we have Selectmen asking where the money went. And still we’re asking to approve compensation increases well above Proposition 2.5. And still our costs, some within our control, outstrip our ability to pay. And still we’re constantly looking for the tax payer to fill in the gaps. Absent a compelling reason for all parties to get on the same page, I don’t see any reason why this won’t stop.
It may well be that we’re so serious in our investment in certain services, like schools, that we think it is worthwhile to pay more than our allotted fair share under Proposition 2.5. And that’s fine. I may agree with you. But are you honestly okay telling those less fortunate that they should pony up and vote for an override based on your priorities, without first doing everything we can to keep costs within our control? Can you honestly tell me that after we pass this override that we won’t ask to pass another one in short order, without ever asking what it is we’re doing?
In the middle of the Finance Committee/School Committee/Board of Selectmen meeting last month, Finance Committee member Dan Cusher asked what had changed between 2014 and 2018 that would give anyone confidence that we wouldn’t simply be asking for yet another override in five or six years. The answer was “nothing”. Nothing has changed. This is unacceptable. We didn’t even try.
For five years now, I’ve fought the Proposition 2.5 fight in Grafton. I recognized our structural deficit in 2013, and co-chaired YESGrafton 2014 to support the 2014 override. And knowing that an override didn’t fix the underlying problem, I pushed for long term financial projections. I argued that the new teacher contract had to be reasonable in light of our structural deficit. I was fought every step of the way, ignored, castigated, personally insulted and villified.
So now, here we are.
I have three kids in Grafton schools. Their teachers are great. I, like all of us, also rely on police and fire services. But, I’m sorry, after having watched this for a while now, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re all not dealing in reality. We simply can’t afford the path that we’re on, and no one can tell me what service that they enjoy that they’re willing to cut.
More than anything, I don’t worry about next year. Next year will take care of itself. I worry about five years from now. What happens then? What happens after you passed one override by a safe margin (2014), and then another by maybe a thread (2019?). Then what? What happens when you’ve exhausted your community’s patience and ability to pay? Whose kids suffer then? And how badly? What veritable hell will we be living in then?
I’m offering an alternative. Let’s get serious about this THIS year. Let’s use this crisis as an opportunity to make lasting reforms. Let’s have some hard conversations. Let’s make some tough decisions. Let’s import best practices from other communities who have done this before. Let’s ask each other what we’re willing to sacrifice for our neighbors, instead of asking our neighbors to sacrifice for us. Have an honest conversation about where we see our community going, instead of pretending it’s all going to be the same it was in 1982.
For me to even consider another override, I would need to see some form of the following:
- An independent identification and examination of cost drivers;
- An analysis of health care expenses as a cost driver;
- An analysis of special education costs as a cost driver (without vilifying those who use the services, thank you);
- An analysis of compensation, school and municipal side;
- A management analysis;
- A freeze on non-union salary increases above 2%, including senior administration staff;
- A determination of need for all high level administration employees in the school and municipal side;
- A commitment to a long term capital plan;
- A commitment to long term financial projections and the establishment of a committee to head that task;
- An acknowledgment by municipal union heads that the present course is unsustainable;
- A general attitude change on the Board of Selectman about where we are.
And that’s off the top of my head.
Otherwise, I’m out. No one knocked more doors than I did last time. No one put in more time. I like to think that I’ve been there and done that carries some weight with some of you. Hear what I’m saying: things need to change and being stubborn, smart and focused about this helps you in the long run.