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Repost: Town Hall makes magic

February 2, 2011

Editor’s Note: With town officials expected to release their FY 2012 budget soon, I decided to repost a blog post I wrote in November regarding Town Hall’s magical ability to discover money in the budget and to then promptly spend it without asking questions regarding why that money was available in the first place. This is good for all residents to remember.

For anyone who is seeking a magician to liven up a special event this winter, any one of our town officials would be superb choices. Town Administrator Michael Boynton and every member of the Board of Selectmen have now re-branded themselves as true magicians with their latest magic trick that involves, not surprisingly, your tax dollars.

At a recent Selectmen’s meeting, Town Administrator Michael Boynton announced that he had magically discovered $62,000 somewhere in the town budget that would be used for the purpose of upgrading nine town buildings to be more energy-efficient (Walpole Times article here.)

Within about five minutes of Mr. Boynton’s announcement of this magical discovery, all five members of the Board voted in favor of spending the money immediately, with Selectman Cliff Snuffer calling the expenditure a “no-brainer.”

The hefty sum of money, which is enough to hire a new teacher, police officer, or firefighter in the town of Walpole, was apparently, in the words of Mr. Boynton, taken from “previously approved but unexpended capital that is now available.”

In other words, within the span of just a few weeks, town officials had mysteriously unearthed a trove of money just lying around somewhere deep in the town budget. Yet, not one of our Selectmen thought that this was a bit odd, given the supposed budget crunch this town is in right now.

Mr. Boynton later clarified that $16,000 of this $62,000 had been taken from different budgets in the town, and $45,000 or so was from the “unexpended capital”, some of which apparently came from the Building Maintenance Equipment Repairs Fund. While the upgrade of town buildings to make them greener is definitely a worthwhile investment, and will save the town thousands of dollars in the future, it is remarkable that the town has actually found the money to do it, so quickly, after months of complaining about how we barely have enough money to keep all Walpole school teachers employed.

Every Walpole resident who has even a shred of common sense deserves to know why this money has magically become available at such a convenient time. Less than a year ago, this very same Board was complaining about cuts to local aid and prison mitigation money that threatened to result in mass layoffs in the Walpole Public Schools. That was apparently before our Town Administrator and Selectmen learned about their magical powers, and their stunning ability to find large amounts of money sitting unused and unspent from deep within the cavernous town budget.

Where was this $62,000 a year ago? Why was this money not being spent on keeping a teacher employed, or on re-opening and re-staffing the East Walpole Fire Station? Why, after reports of higher crime in Walpole, was this money not miraculously discovered and immediately shoveled off to the Police Department? Why was this money just sitting in the town budget apparently not being used? Why did it take all but a few weeks, if even, to find the money, and all but a few minutes for the Board to unanimously approve spending it? If it was so easy to find money for this purpose, why can’t the town find money like this more often? The answers to these questions and more are unclear.

Never again should any member of the Walpole citizenry believe this Board of Selectmen when they proclaim that the town can’t afford new police officers. Rather, we should call on Selectmen to consider utilizing their magical powers instead. I have a sneaking suspicion that with Deval Patrick in the governor’s office for another four years, these magical powers could come in handy to cover town budget deficits left by Patrick’s ongoing assault on local aid.

By the way, for any Walpole residents who are curious as to where their tax money goes, the town of Walpole, in keeping with its policy of being as anti-transparent and as anti-resident as possible, has no line-by-line budgets available on the town website. To be fair, neither do any other towns in the area, but Walpole should lead the way in becoming the first to post every line item online.

The only locations in town where the full budgets are available for residents’ review is at the Walpole Library or at Town Hall. Since you won’t know where to look to find the budget at Town Hall, and you can’t always find comfortable seating there, the Walpole Library is really the only location possible. But the budget is quite a read. It is hundreds of pages long, compiled in a black binder that weighs several pounds.

The format of this town’s budget pales in comparison to much more transparent municipal governments, like, for example, Provincetown, MA, where every line item is carefully explained in non-bureaucratic language and every employee is listed with salary and other employment details, including whether they are unionized.

By the way, I commend the Board for spending any money in the first place to upgrade our town buildings. Thank you also to NSTAR for fronting the vast majority of the funding needed. See the news article from The Walpole Times here.

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