While good little girls and boys may be wishing for candy canes and sugar plums (which are, of course, really code words for new iPhones5s, Playstation4s and such), many town departments are obviously and publicly dreaming on some numbers of their own this holiday season. These include numbers like 5% budget increases, $200,000 increases in beach lease costs (a 50% increase), and expensive new goodies like Apples (Apple laptops that is) for students and electronic voting thingies for town meeting.
All that, on top of the whopping tax increases already underway to pay for Duxbury’s biggest capital spending spree ever over the past few years, adds up to conditions that will make most of Duxbury’s taxpayers feel not merely like cash-strapped parents working hard to have enough to buy presents for the kids, but struggling to keep up with steep college tuition and living costs as well – which, of course, many Duxbury parents in fact are already doing.
All of which makes this a particularly critical time of testing for René Reed, our new (as of last spring) Duxbury Town Manager. His predecessor, Richard MacDonald, did a very good job keeping a lid on at least the most outrageous demands for lots more money from one department or another. Sure, spending and taxes went up well over 2 1/2 % each year on his watch, but it would have been much worse had MacDonald and Finance Director John Madden not imposed some reasonable discipline on departmental spending requests within the normal annual budget process.
That happy fiscal restraint in town spending did not break down there, but with the choices of voters who rather abruptly, a few years ago, went from “just say no” to “of course, let’s build it and worry about how to pay for it later” in approving the biggest spurt of capital spending Duxbury’s ever seen, piling on loads of new debt to create whopping real estate tax increases for at least the next 20 years.
Perhaps based on the notion that compared to $130 million plus in capital spending an extra $200,000 or so – and maybe another million or two here or there as well – just doesn’t seem like very much, a number of would-be claimants to Duxbury taxpayers’ dollars appear to be lining up for their cut, looking to “get while the getting’s good”, as it were.
Reed has, commendably, at least tried to put the brakes on a little before handing over another $200,000 for Pipingploverville, but it remains to be seen what, if any, long-term effect that will have. The real test will come in the operating and capital budgets that come before town meeting in March. It will be Reed’s first real fiscal test ‘under fire’, and under much tougher conditions than MacDonald faced.
At the end of the day, though, one person can only do so much, even if he is town manager, without firm support and backing from concerned citizens. Those who want to spend money on something or other are always vocal on behalf of their projects and budgets. Those who want to spend your money for you will always try to label you as the grumpy Grinch who stole Christmas if you oppose them.
But the real Grinch is a government that grows faster than the economy, faster than the incomes of its citizens, and faster than the real rate of inflation. That is why it is so very important for those who want to see some reasonable fiscal restraint, those do not want to see their real estate taxes erode their disposable income every year, to make their own voices heard in town hall and on the floor of town meeting. Duxbury’s over-burdened taxpayers need to speak up for fiscal restraint. Will we? Will you?