"This is the town and these are The People. That's the way they wanted it; that's the way it's going to stay." With a little more than seven weeks until a scheduled tentative budget adoption by the Norwich City Council, what do we know about the City Manager's proposed budget? It seems in times of economic hardship, and this qualifies as one of those times, a lot more of us pay attention to what happens in the council chambers and department offices of City Hall than has been the case in some previous years.
Last week's meetings of the Board of Education's Budget Expenditure Committee, a meeting of the entire Board itself and a community meeting in the Greeneville School on its proposed closure all are a part, and consequence, of the budget formulation process. Where you stand on proposed reductions in the Human Services and the Recreation Department budgets, coupled with the announced intention of a zero increase in the Education budget, and an overall redoubling of the 'measure twice, cut once' approach to municipal financial management has a great deal to do with how you see the role of government, any kind of government, in providing goods and services and how you define what those should be.
When times were good, a relative term that glows more golden in memory than it does in real life and real time, we added responsibilities and services to many of our city agencies and provided some, if not all, the resources necessary to accomplish those added tasks. Now, in financial extremis, until the next budget cycle when this year could end up as the "good old days", we want to go cold turkey and set the dial on the WABAC machine to a decade or more ago and leave many to fend for themselves.
Attendance at the first sets of department hearings was, I thought, quite good, and the participation across the city at the first public hearing before our Council was excellent. Thanks to all those who spoke, and those who listened, both in the audience and on the City Council. As happy as many of those in the front of the room were last November as Election Night concluded, I suspect some of the recent days and nights since then have been a lot less pleasant.
Comments on the budget formulation process in our local newspapers have been, for the most part, encouraging, not counting those who choose to argue with less than accurate facts, who substitute emotion for facts (passion is no ordinary word) or who are interested in scapegoating an agency or city employees or, worse, still, a single individual. The danger of finger pointing is three of the fingers point back at yourself, which, in this case may be accurate but is not helpful.
There are public safety provider hearings this Saturday morning starting at eight in the Central Fire House, which affords us a chance to get the detail behind the numbers, and then a week from tonight, in Room 335 at City Hall, the Board of Education updates the City Council on what its economizing efforts have so far achieved. After that we should have a better sense of what we can afford and how we will pay for it and face up to how much continuing to do nothing will cost us, starting now and continuing until we either learn to live within our means or the last resident pulls up stakes and moves on.