Note: Original picture credit goes to Christopher Tanguay of the Concord Patch
Last night, my Bride and I got to participate once again in the seemingly unique New England experience: the Town Meeting. Where the unwashed masses (of whom I am perhaps the unwashedest) get together and decide our future through glorious and somewhat organized mob rule.
It is fascinating and exciting to be a part of it. We just didn't do things like this in Georgia, or even California. Democracy wasn't as immediate & visceral. It was a thing reserved for the civics classroom, and collapsible formica voting booths with stubby pencils. This is downright neighborly. We love it.
This week's meeting had a special purpose. To bring to ballot the proposal to fund the replacement of our (terrific) high school, which we share with Concord, our big sister town next door. Essentially, we were asking if we were willing to borrow a bunch of money and foot the payments through a property tax increase. Oh, except we already did that to pay for our new elementary school building this year. Which adds up to an overall increase of several hundred to more than two thousand dollars per household per year we were asking for, depending on the value of your home.
Yikes. That's not a small increase. But you know.. it's For The Children. How the heck are you going to say no? Why do you hate The Children?
The truth is, we need a new school. Pretty badly. The current one was built when Eisenhower was president, and added to over the years to create a rambling, low-hung, cobbled structure with fifty-four separate entrances (some one mentioned that creates a security problem. I just couldn't help but shudder at the thought of all that shoveling in the winter snowstorms.) It's falling down, and it needs replacing, and after a lot of work, the proposed replacement is really pretty good.
What I don't get, however, is how on earth this was a surprise to anyone. But given the fact we have to get together and borrow a bunch of money to build the new one, apparently it is.
So I have written a letter to my local paper. Which I think makes me officially crotchety. I've reproduced it here, in the spirit of openess and involvement.
9 November 2011
To the Editor,
I want to congratulate the planners and all who had input into the design and presentation of the new CCHS facility. It's clear from the overwhelming support that the community is in clear agreement on the need and solution to secure the future education of our students. I was among the supporters in the crowd at the Town Meeting, and impressed again with the preparation involved.
However, I also want to reflect that the impact of this and the Carlisle school project combined is a significant new burden for many of our residents, and harms our ability to create an affordable community for our neighbors and newcomers. It will be difficult to offset the significant increase in property taxes that we will all bear. In every responsible household and business, we plan ahead for big purchases, set aside a little each month, and save up for what we know will be the big expenses, to reduce the painful impact of those purchases and live within our means for the long term. If we had, for example, agreed to a $100 or $150/year average increase in our property tax per household for the last 20 years as a set-aside for major improvements, we could have avoided altogether the need to see those taxes rise by $600-$1,600+/year to pay off this loan. This is the same principle underlying the Community Preservation Act, setting a bit aside each year to ensure we create and preserve a town worth living in. Why wouldn't we do the same to ensure we can affordably pay for major school & civic investments?
It doesn't take a crystal ball to know that there will be other bills due: maintenance, upgrades and replacement of other aging parts of the Carlisle school in coming years. I would look to the Carlisle Long Term Capital Requirements committee to take the opportunity now while these costs are still fresh in our minds to bring forward alternatives to see that we do not ever have to bear such a painfully sharp and beyond-our-means expense again, be it 2 years, 5 years or 50 years hence.
The motion passed 494 - 14, by the way. My bride and I were there, and part of the 494. And to be clear, I'll still be voting for this when it shows up on the ballot next week. Because I do not hate The Children. But I plan on doing some extra standing in my front yard and shaking my fists as passers-by to make up for it.
But I'll do it in a neighborly way.