Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Long Road Out of Eden

Another Norwich city budget is now history not without loud and long discussions, some heated disagreement and pain for many within and without the walls of City Hall, to include us, in whose name all of this is being accomplished in the first place.

We’ve spent years seeing government as something done TO us rather than FOR us so it’s hard to break with the past and develop trust and confidence in the people we elect to lead us and in those whom they hire to work for all of us. Last November, those seeking office as Mayor or City Council promised us to be good, if not better, stewards of the public money, than many of us had felt had been the case in years.

Early on in the budget deliberations those elected to this City Council drew a line, a bottom line, and the City Manager and the municipal departments worked to achieve it. Many of us seemed discomfited by such resolve and we retreated to management by exception—a zero budget increase was a great idea except for (insert your cause or project here)…And, of course, now many of us are surprised by how we’ve ended up. Except…this year’s budget is not an ending it’s a dispatch from the front in a battle we’re not winning because we’re fighting the wrong one.

When you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there. The cost of government does, indeed, need to be carefully managed and monitored most especially when its rate of growth continues to outstrip increases in revenues. J. Wellington Wimpy, Popeye’s pal, will gladly pay us Tuesday for a hamburger today-but the rest of us have to have cash money at the time of purchase. Securitization, deferred reimbursement and a half dozen other attempts to pay for goods and services we want with money we don’t have only makes the hole we’re standing in a lot deeper.

Over the late winter and early spring of this year, the Norwich City Council worked on a plan for economic and community development. The sessions were open to all of us and feedback was, and still is, solicited and welcomed. They never said it was perfect and all those involved would be quick to describe it as a work in progress.

The lesson for all of us is that it's not enough to say ‘grow the grand list’—we need to move forward as a city with a coordinated plan for sustainable and achievable smart economic growth. Hope is a wonderful thing but hope is NOT a plan. We all know the price of failure-we just watched what happens as we closed schools and curtailed services.

How much longer can we afford to not have a plan with goals, milestones, measurements and means to correct and perfect as needed? It’s time we finally STOP seeing ourselves as victims of some kind of cosmic conspiracy in which we are hostages from Hell. Just got a copy of a note the boys back at the fort passed to G. A. Custer, 'You're on your own...' Very much words to live by.
-bill kenny

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