Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tabla Rasa

Times are tough all over-we feel it in our households, across our cities and towns, in our states and throughout our nation's capital. Money, and the lack of it, drives every discussion and the easiest way to trump anyone's argument about any initiative, idea or ideal is to ask 'and how will you pay for this?' The silence is deafening.

But here's the thing, especially as we in Norwich, CT, wrestle with a city budget that many fear we cannot afford in any form while the State stares into a shortfall of billions and Washington D. C. thinks in terms of tens of trillions of dollars in deficit spending. If nothing else, we have to assume there's not going to a lot of help coming from back at the fort, so we're left alone with a one hundred million (and more) dollar municipal budget question: can we afford to spend the money required to operate our city?

How about this, instead: Can we afford not to?

In the past year we've had extended and extensive discussions in Council chambers, the voting booth and among ourselves, on expansion and modernization of Kelly Middle School, a new public safety complex, a real estate purchase of former state property, final preparations on the construction of a regional intermodal transportation center and a half-dozen other projects. The discussions have been good though some might argue some of the decisions less so. Fair enough.

We can all agree that we want to enhance and enlarge the municipal revenue stream by expanding private sector investment in Norwich but if we don't recapitalize our infrastructure, reinvest in our public safety and readdress decades of make-do funding for our public schools, whom do we hope to attract to Norwich and what will we have left of Norwich for ourselves?

No one wants to pay more taxes, none of us like what we're paying now. But all of us want the services we currently have to remain exactly as they are, and maybe even get a little more. And each of us has an opinion on where (else) in the budget savings can be realized.

The only people who can get us out of this mess are already here. We are all we can count on and that's perfect, because we are all we need; but we have to be willing to take risks to achieve rewards. And we need to remember there are NO silver bullets. Rome wasn't built in a day and even Marcus Aurelius (I'm trying to imagine the Preface updated for our current 'how does this make you feel?' environment. No joy) found the real estate market soft when trying to lease the upper floors of the Coliseum.

There are as many reasons to NOT invest in ourselves as there are residents, but there's also over 36,000 reasons why we must spend our own money on our own city. Each of us is worth every penny of the current city budget as well as the one being developed by the City Manager and the various department directors. Soon enough the men and women of the City Council, the neighbors we elected last fall to make tough decisions like budget expenditures, will take out their stubby pencils and will need every informed idea and constructive suggestion we can offer.

Once we've decided we are worth saving, we'll have to reinvent every aspect of how we do business. The difference between a rut and a grave is the depth of the habit.

-bill kenny

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