It is unfortunate, though not entirely surprising - given the emotional nature of human beings - that a range of items have been offered as "sacrificial lambs" with respect to the approach local government may consider in order to arrive at a level-funded budget, should such pass. Those "sacrificial lambs" include - though are not limited to - some the following, which can be found in the FY13 Finance Committee Report: (NOTE: I have called out by way of underline, highlighting, and bold print those items that I personally believe at this point lack merit)
Reduce or eliminate the clerical assistance in most Town departments
Eliminate the merit based incentive
Eliminate matching grant funds
Eliminate funding for the Sturbridge Co-Op Nursery School and 8 Brookfield Road
Eliminate the school resource officer position from the Police Department
Reduce the Building Inspector’s hours
Reduce the Burgess Elementary budget increase request by 46%
Eliminate the additional position in the Department of Public Works
Reduce the Town Road Maintenance program by 80%
Eliminate the Community Healthcare budget
Eliminate the Council on Aging budget
Reduce the Joshua Hyde Library Operations Salaries/Wages by 20%
Eliminate the Recreation budget
Reduce the Reserve Fund by 37%
Undoubtedly, some of these proposed cuts or reductions may or would be necessary (evidenced by the lack of emphasis I have added to them), equally however, some (those with emphasis added by me) appear to amount to nothing more than what one might characterize as "fear-baiting".
Let us then consider a few items from above and I will begin with a very brief comment on full-day Kindergarten. Many have questioned me as to whether the level-funded proposal - if passed - would eliminate full-day Kindergarten. It is important to note that any decision for such would rest with the Sturbridge School Committee, not the BOS or the Finance Committee (FinCom) and quite frankly I have every confidence that Kate Alexander, Chairman of the School Committee and a woman of great integrity whom I am fortunate to call my friend, as well as those members I personally know and respect (Megan Panek, Mary Bellezza, and Kristen Tuohey) will carefully, considerately, and pragmatically address any potential cuts that may be necessary in a manner appropriate to the dictates of the situation. Whatever decision they arrive at will be based upon necessity as opposed to fear-baiting. In terms of the FinCom Report suggesting a reduction of 46% of the Burgess Elementary Budget increase request, I question the legitimacy of those numbers when in fact the Burgess School Committee represents 37% of the total budget. One would request the process behind the percentage figures offered by the FinCom be provided so that an informed appraisal can be made.
Beyond the school budget, the "nightmare budget" presented in the Finance Committee Report suggests the possibility of eliminating the Council on Aging budget. This budget component pays the salaries of those who direct and administer senior services in our community, as well as the programs run daily at the Senior Center. When one considers the array of NEEDED services provided to those in their senior years who built this great community, the mere suggestion of eliminating the Council on Aging budget is not only an ill-conceived and inappropriate approach, but one that serves only to create fear among a vulnerable component of our population - our seniors and their families. Not unlike the baseless and distorted extremes we witness daily at the state and national levels, we are now engaging in that same objectionable approach here at the local level. Might it be necessary for some reduced programming? Perhaps so, but elimination of the entire Council on Aging budget will simply not happen, nor is it even open to discussion. The residents of this community would never allow such a careless and destructive approach, nor would those whom you ELECT to develop such policy recommendations for your consideration.
Similarly, the "nightmare budget" that suggests we may eliminate the Recreation Budget, thereby decimating an entire department that offers hundreds of recreational opportunities for our children demonstrates an equally ill-conceived and inappropriate approach, serving only to create fear within our community. Might it be necessary for some reduced programming? Here again, perhaps so, but elimination of the entire recreation budget will simply not happen and it is - in my opinion - simply irresponsible to even suggest such. In addition, it is important to recognize that the elimination of the Sturbridge Co-Op Nursery School and 8 Brookfield Road, which in total amounts to approximately $2,000 (two-thousand dollars) plays only to induce - inappropriately so - fear among parents within our community.
There are other "nightmare budget" reductions or eliminations listed above (bold highlighted print and underlined) that I question and challenge the legitimacy of such as elimination of the Community Health Care Budget, (approximately $4,000 for access to the Massachusetts Virtual Epidemiologic Reporting System) which frankly is not on the table for discussion - in terms of complete elimination thereof - despite assertions in any report to the contrary. So too are statements in terms of eliminating matching grant funds, which we are required to fund if we have accepted partnered grants from the State or elsewhere. Certainly, we may have to eliminate requests for future grants, but we cannot eliminate or dishonor legal agreements we are currently engaged in. Other items listed above in bold are questionable and clearly there are others that may be necessary. That said, it would appear - in my humble view - that some components have been packaged as part of a "nightmare budget" to create a level of fear and anxiety among the young and old, thereby forcing support for a budget increase of approximately $1.1 million dollars in FY13. Interestingly, some of the very same individuals responsible for presenting this "nightmare budget" are the ones who will recommend an increase in hours or personnel for nearly every Town department, while simultaneously recommending a 2% wage increase for all non-union employees and 2% merit bonuses for year end accomplishment of Department Head goals.
I have personally voted against all personnel increases (with the exception of the SRO) as well as having voted against any increase in personnel hours in Town departments. Equally, I have voted against all merit increases for FY13 and any wage increases for non-union personnel. During a time of economic uncertainty for most residents, as well as a time when many residents in the private sector are dealing with wage and benefit reductions, loss of jobs and/or job security, along with the threat of being taxed out of this community, it defies logic - in my humble opinion - that we would even recommend increased wages, personnel, and hours in our Town departments. I firmly believe our employees are well compensated and cared for with respect to their 35 hour work-week, while enjoying the benefit of closing their offices for a 1-hour lunch. Though it would clearly be desirable to provide additional benefits to these employees and their families, it is not lost on me that to do so comes entirely on the backs of our residents who must foot the bill by way of tax increases and increased fees for services. While considering the economic period we are facing, I am simply unable to support any such increases.
Though I do not support the level-funded budget as I believe it will be detrimental to our level of services, I do not support the presentation of "nightmare budgets" that serve only to create unnecessary and inappropriate fear within our community. I do generally support the Board of Selectmen's budget recommendations - with the exception of the 2% non-union wage increase, Department Head merit increases, and a few other items of less significance and I encourage residents to join me in supporting the BOS recommendations, while challenging any increases beyond what is absolutely necessary. Having said that, I can assure residents that should the level-funded citizens' petition budget pass, I will endeavor to ensure that the necessary reductions are done in a manner that is based upon pragmatism and appropriateness, as opposed to "fear-baiting" and vindictiveness. I work for you and will serve you in a manner reflective of the great honor you have bestowed upon me.