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Time to get real about town spending

September 17, 2011

The Sun Chronicle had an article on Friday about the vehicle used by the Attleboro Fire Chief – a 1995 Chevrolet Impala – that is soon to be replaced. Attleboro bought it used in 2005, apparently.

Yes, that’s right. Apparently the Attleboro Fire Chief has been driving around in a 16-year-old used car. This in a city that is far larger than Walpole in terms of population. He has still been able to respond to all emergencies – amazing!

According to a 2006 version of the Attleboro Fire Department website, the Chief’s car is actually from 1993, not 1995 (it’s not clear which is correct.) The Sun Chronicle also reports that the car only has 150,000 miles on it, which seems remarkably low for a car that is over a decade old. In any case, it doesn’t matter – it’s still an old car.

I’m not religious, but: God Bless the Attleboro Fire Chief. He deserves a round of applause for being a true fiscal conservative and for being a good sport in driving around a car that was 16 years old. Never once complaining or whining for more money, apparently, although I am sure it was on his mind every time he started it up.

Now compare that to Walpole. Earlier this year, Town Meeting, the Board of Selectmen, the Finance Committee, the Town Administrator’s Office, and the Capital Budget Committee all approved the purchase of a new SUV for the Fire Department to replace one that was from 2004 (see my previous blog post about that here.) So the Walpole Fire Department replaced a seven-year-old vehicle while the Attleboro Fire Chief has been driving around in a 1995 vehicle.

The Attleboro Fire Chief should inspire Town Hall to forego all vehicle purchases next year. Implementing a moratorium on town vehicle purchases would be the responsible thing to do. Judging by the latest initiative to purchase a new Emergency Management Vehicle that even town officials have publicly admitted will be used very rarely, it is clear Town Hall isn’t getting it. They are not connecting the dots.

If Walpole needs to buy a brand new town vehicle every seven years while the Attleboro Fire Chief is driving a 15-year old used vehicle, something is wrong.

Town Hall is already starting to make the case for an override in FY 2013. This is a waste of everyone’s time – most especially a waste of the Board of Selectmen’s time. This won’t pass at the ballot box. So instead of wasting valuable resources and energy trying to convince Town Meeting to put it on the ballot and then persuading the voters to support it, the Board of Selectmen should pursue spending cuts instead. It would save everyone a lot of time and would clear space on the ballot for meaningful ballot questions like these.

Here is a staggering fact: Every single year for the past six years (2006-2011) there has been at least one election in Walpole with an override on the ballot. Next year could make the seventh consecutive year with an override proposal. There is something wrong with that picture. The town is spending too much money – it’s that simple.

What amazes me is that more people aren’t outraged about this. Take a look at the Walpole Spending webpage here. It would be great if people would write letters to the editor of The Walpole Times about these issues.

This is my challenge to Town Hall: The only circumstance under which I would support a general spending override next year (for schools and municipal budget) is if the town implemented a moratorium for the duration of the override’s tax increases on employee raises, longevity pay, step/lane increases/changes, cost of living increases, hiring, and vehicle purchases. The Economic Development Officer, which has been a failed six-year expensive experiment, should also be eliminated from the budget entirely.

Such a moratorium would show that the town is seeking an override out of a genuine need for money, not out of a desire to keep spending.

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