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Walpole needs fiscal task force

December 29, 2011

Partisan rancor sabotaged federal lawmakers’ well-intentioned effort two months ago to seek bipartisan solutions to bring down the rising national debt.

But in a town like Walpole, which bills itself as “The Friendly Town,” a similar committee might actually come to some accord if given the opportunity to address the current municipal fiscal crisis in Walpole.

It is quite evident that the town is in a fiscal crisis. Taxpayers are staring down the barrel of two proposition 2.5 overrides in the June 2012 town election. Town officials have publicly announced they aren’t interested in spending cuts – tax hikes are apparently the only way to go. That kind of assertion is not a solution to the crisis – it’s an indication of officials who have abdicated their responsibility to run an efficient and cost-effective government that lives within its means.

A few months ago, members of Congress set up a bipartisan debt committee that was supposed to draw up proposals for bringing down the national debt. After months of discussion, the members of the committee failed to come to any compromise in an epic failure. Members couldn’t agree on whether revenue increases or spending cuts were needed, and how much of each. The town of Walpole can certainly do better than that.

The Board of Selectmen is no stranger to setting up special committees for specific purposes. Recently, Selectman Chris Timson prodded the Board to set up a task force to assist the Coalition for Alcohol and Drug Awareness to address rising substance abuse among teens in Walpole. Selectmen also set up a library re-use committee in the past few months.

Selectmen should set up a task force to solve the town’s fiscal crisis.

Some would say that the Finance Committee is supposed to serve as this type of committee already. But they have failed at this task, since here we are in a fiscal crisis.

Here are some ideas for who would compose the membership of the Committee. This list is flexible of course, these are just ideas:

– One member who is a town employee or official or individual selected by the Town Administrator to represent town employees and explain conditions on the ground at town departments and generally represent the unions and their interests. The Town Administrator can not appoint himself because the whole point of the committee is to attract new ideas.
– One member selected by the School Committee and School Superintendent to represent school-backed interests since schools take up 2/3 of the budget
– Two members selected by prominent local fiscal conservative like Russell Jones, Cliff Snuffer, John L. Sullivan, James Taylor, or others
– One local business owner
– Two members from the community at large, selected at random (residents would be allowed to apply, and if they are competent and have generally good qualifications they would be put into a pool and literally selected at random by the Board of Selectmen)
– Two members from the community at large who specifically have opposite viewpoints, who apply to the Board of Selectmen by applying and explaining their positions on a few hot-button spending items (in other words, people would apply by stating their opinions on issues like overrides or keeping the Economic Development Officer and then Selectmen would choose two people who, based on this application, are generally opposite from each other in views)
– James P. Taylor (honorary member of the Committee)

No current elected or appointed officials or town employees would be allowed on the committee, except the member appointed by the Town Administrator (he would appoint whomever he wishes – it doesn’t have to be a town employee or official but it could be)

All committee meetings would have a public forum for citizens, and citizens and town employees would be asked in the local newspaper and via the town website to submit tips for cost-savings. Tips could be anonymous. Each tip and submitted suggestion would be discussed at the committee’s meetings in order to ensure that all ideas are explored and, if unfeasible, ruled out with a coherent and detailed explanation as to why it wouldn’t work.

The committee would conduct site visits of every town department, interview every town department head, and interview employees. They would also take field trips to other towns to see how other communities have saved money.

The committee would be required to come up with $5 million in cost-savings for the town of Walpole for one fiscal year. The committee would be allowed to propose higher taxes as a solution for achieving that $5 million figure, but it must be part of a larger package that also includes spending cuts, and the committee should also be challenged to come up with creative revenue solutions that don’t necessarily involve higher property taxes. However, whether it be cost-savings or tax hikes that the committee concludes are necessary, each of their recommendations must be approved by a majority of the members of the committee.

If the recommendations failed to be approved by a majority of the committee’s members, their proposals, meeting minutes, ideas, and observations from site visits and department head interviews would be publicly released. Nothing else would happen – the committee would simply be branded a failure and it would be back to square one. But all of the information they collected could be used to develop the FY 2013 town budget anyway.

If approved by a majority of the members, the recommendations would be brought to the Board of Selectmen for an up-or-down vote by all members of the Board of Selectmen.

All of the committee’s recommendations that gained the approval of the Board of Selectmen in that up-or-down vote would then be included in the Town Administrator’s town budget for review by Finance Committee and ultimate approval by Town Meeting.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Sam Obar permalink
    February 21, 2012 3:56 PM

    Reblogged this on Sam Obar 180.

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