By: Lawrence, Lonnie Brennan – April, 2010
Let’s take a quick review of just how fun and easy it is to raise taxes in any city or town, and especially in the quaint hamlet of Georgetown.
First order of business: be sure to ignore the economy, and pen raises for as many unions as possible. And, sure enough, this was done with great propensity in many towns last year. What’s the result? A whole new series of “contractual obligations” as Georgetown Selectman David Surface likes to call them when he recently pleaded to his fellow selectmen to consider a proposition 2 ½ sidestep (a.k.a. debt exclusion).
So how big should the “contractual obligations” get? Campers, let’s be serious. If you want to make friends and be popular on the school committee, at the local tavern, on the board of selectmen or on a local city council, you had best make the “contractual obligations” as large as you think the voters will swallow. In Georgetown, the powers-that-be “contractually- obligated” the taxpayers to provide in excess of $250,000 in raises to town employees this year, and much more than that moving forward.
Why lock in such an increase of “contractual obligation”? Three reasons: 1) It makes the powers-that-be feel good that they’re dolling out raises and keeping employees happy, 2) Few elected officials have the incentive to ever argue against a raise for a firefighter or a teacher’s group, for example, and 3) because they believe in what they are doing, and want to pay as much as they can, or think they can, and will produce countless ‘statistics’ to show that everyone else is jumping off the bridge, oops, ‘responsibly raising revenue’, so ‘we should too.’ (Note to readers, remind me to follow-up on the every-elusive and ever skewed ‘per-pupil-spending’ shell game perpetuated in most communities!)
So, back to the tax-raising fun and games: after locking in future spending increases through “contractual obligations”, what’s a committee or board to do? The answer is simple: seek ‘new revenue streams’ (tax or fee what isn’t taxed) or ‘enhanced revenue streams’ (increased fines, fees, proposition 2/12 debt exclusions/overrides), etc.
Look for most of these on the May 3rd Georgetown Town Meeting warrant. And most especially for a ‘betrayal of the taxpayer’s trust’ as one citizen noted, as regards a certain ladder truck purchase, previously approved at Town Meeting.
You see, a few years back, the fire department sought to secure a new ladder truck for the department. For years, the $77,000 annual payment had been made predominantly off of interest earned on the town’s savings accounts. But the town now needs to meet “contractual obligations” and also buy a lot of other items, so the savings accounts are in jeopardy of getting raided, and the funding source problematic at best.
The latest proposal being tossed about at press time was: raise taxes on everyone in town to “refinance” the truck payment through a proposition 2 ½ debt exclusion (temporary override….hmm, anyone ever see an underride?). This would “free up” $77K each year to be spent on “contractual obligations” (code-word: raises).
And just when you thought this betrayal of the taxpayer (getting town-meeting to approve a purchase through a specific funding source, then coming back a few years later and saying you now need to pull that funding, and increase taxes instead, because you gave away hundreds of thousands in salaries)… Selectman Gary Fowler exposed the truth and true depth of the ‘spenders’ on the Selectboard, when he asked Mr. Surface what is happing with the $160K reduction in required debt payments for next year (we paid off some debt, and no longer have to spend that $160K….kinda like having your car loan all paid off). Mr. Surface replied that the $160K that we no longer need to spend on debt payments was now needed to meet….wait for it…this is good…it doesn’t get any better than this…..”contractual obligations.”
Have a nice spring.