There is little doubt that many, if not most residents face financial challenges due to a devastating national economy combined with increased prices on nearly everything and reduced incomes for all too many. Discretionary income is non-existent for most and despite some news reports of an improved economy, the vast majority of Americans and Sturbridge residents are still financially challenged and find themselves unable to bear any more financial burdens. In the face of such, revocation of the CPA appears to be not only prudent, but necessary.
That is of course until you look deeper into this issue and find that it is not a CPA spending crisis that is facing the Town of Sturbridge, but rather a town-wide borrowing crisis brought on by all too many projects being approved at Town Meeting by the Legislative Branch of government - those residents (approximately 4.5%) who vote Town Meeting - of which I am one. The Community Preservation Committee (CPC), just like the Board of Selectmen and every other board/committee in town has absolutely no authority to spend or borrow against locally raised revenues on behalf of the Town of Sturbridge; that authority rests solely and unequivocally with the voters who serve as the Legislative Branch at Town Meeting. To be clear, this post is not presented to highlight any pros or cons one might ascribe to the CPA, nor is it designed to address its many contributions to our community - and there have been many. It is instead, presented to address what I view as the central issue in terms of the financial burden many residents are shouldering and what I believe to be the most pragmatic and appropriate approach.
Considering such, there is a critical element in terms of any discussion relative to the CPA that must be understood. We are burdened with the debt we currently have, not because of the CPA or any other program we maintain in Sturbridge, but because of our collective decisions at Town Meeting, which have resulted in the financial challenges that many residents are now faced with. To that end, revocation of the CPA will not lessen that tax burden nor lighten our load in any way, as the debt we have incurred still needs to be paid. Therefore with or without the CPA, any tax burden we have associated solely with the CPA will remain for the next 20 plus years. There is absolutely no way around that fact.
Some will argue that if we revoke the CPA we will prevent any further debt. This position is fundamentally flawed as it does not prevent projects from coming forward for consideration at Town Meeting, it only prevents us from obtaining any state contributions to those projects that fit within the realm of CPA funding. That list of projects fitting within the realm of the CPA, is quite extensive by the way. Projects will still come forward and if approved as has generally been the practice, we will continue to increase the burden on tax payers and more at a more significant rate, as without the CPA there will be no state contribution of funds for some of those projects.
More to the point however, revoking the CPA in an effort to fix our spending problem is akin to providing dramamine therapy for a concussion. One might feel better for a few minutes (extremely doubtful), but the fact remains that the concussion still exists and the treatment for the injury is much more detailed. Similarly, one might feel better by thinking that revoking the CPA will relieve their pain - as in the tax burden, but the fact remains that the tax burden will not lessen, as the current debt does not simply disappear, nor does it prevent any further spending or borrowing by revoking it. Again, it merely eliminates a source of potential funding from the state.
There is however a very simple and very effective way to reduce or flatten our future tax burden (future being the optimum word here as we own the debt we currently have from all expenditures - CPA and otherwise) and that comes by way of attending Town Meetings (generally 1 or 2 per year) and voting NO on spending or borrowing projects. That's it in a nut shell - JUST SAY NO.
When you consider some of the projects we have borrowed for over the last 5 years (i.e. new Wastewater Treatment Facility, Town Hall/Center Office Building renovations, Burgess elementary school, new town wells, water/sewer lines on Route 131, land purchases, etc.), all of which total in excess of $50 million dollars, one is hard-pressed to identify the CPA as the root of our current financial burden. In fact, of this $50 plus million dollars in debt approved by the Legislative Branch - voters at Town Meeting, approximately $4.4 million dollars or 8% of it involves a CPA component. Thus, 92% of the financial burden we bear is competely unrelated to the CPA. In my view, the real issue in Sturbridge isn't the CPA, but rather our inability to say NO to spending.
If we really want to address the financial challenges we face as a community, the solution rests not with throwing the baby out with the bath water - as revocation of the CPA would do, but rather by truly changing the way we do business both before and more importantly at Town Meeting. It has been said that insanity can be defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Well, if we continue to go to Town Meeting and approve spending projects at the rate we have over the past 5 years - the overwhelming majority of which do not involve the CPA in any way, how can we ever expect to flatten or reduce our financial burdens?