Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Right Now

I overheard in a grocery store near the produce department last week two shoppers expressing frustration at the city for ‘not living within its means’ and annoyance at ‘how this happens every year.’ Yeah, there’s a lot of that going around, much like pollen, this time of year and it can be about as irritating as those seasonal allergies but only if you choose to let it.

I’ve cut back attending public meetings, but between newspaper accounts and published minutes and video archives of City Council meetings available on the city’s website, feel informed enough to agree that the more things change the more they stay the same when we look at our city’s finances, but to also suggest we may be looking at the wrong side of the ledger.  

Short of a national declaration of war, I think we’d all agree nothing done at or by any level of government has a greater impact on us than decisions made at the municipal level on taxes and expenditures. Because democracy is a contact sport, there should be nothing more desirable and beneficial than having as many residents as possible engaged in every aspect of the budget process.

Yes, that engagement can make for long and protracted evenings as those neighbors we’ve elected to the Board of Education and to the City Council listen to what we, the people, think our spending priorities should be, especially since so often we take turns contradicting one another on what to do and how, but still expect their decisions to reflect our thinking.

I heard someone else the other day offer, “well it’s an election year,” I’m guessing for why some paths and directions were being picked over others. Except, it’s almost always an election year and we can be mighty hard on the folks who seek office. There’s a half-remembered (by me) expression that goes “it’s only after you’re elected to a position of power that you first realize how little power you have.”

It seems to me we've wasted decades pitting teachers against policemen, struggling to balance human services versus road repair while measuring brick and mortar infrastructure support instead of (rather than in addition to) human resources development.

We view the city budget as some kind of a zero-sum game because it always has been. We have more wants than wallet. But that doesn’t mean it needs to continue to be that way. What if…

Our elected leaders and professional city management talent devoted XX% more of their time to the development and expansion of our community’s quality of life, not just talking about economic development but actually doing it? That would (not so coincidentally) enhance our municipal revenue stream that we so often define our Grand List.  

Why not try it? What’s the worst that could happen? I think we already know that answer, and live with it every day. If we want different results for our city and ourselves, then we have to agree to do things differently. Right Now.
-bill kenny

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