Art of Proprietation

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Town Meeting day

Tuesday was town meeting day. It's kind of like democracy.... It's a lousy inefficient process, but it's better than all of the alternatives.

It's a well known axiom that at town meeting, the low dollar items are the ones that get the most discussion. Yesterday, the two topics that got the most discussion were should the town oppose a land owner who wants to move a private cemetery that is on his land and should the board of selectmen compensate landowners if the plow truck hits their mailboxes. It's been a heavy snow year and a lot of mailboxes have fallen by the way side....

Both issues are pretty thorny and got blood pumping. The cemetery has veterans of the war of 1812 in it. And who can argue with the sanctity of an ancient burial? But at the same time, it is a private cemetery and previous land owners including the families of the interred did not provide for the cemetery into perpetuity. If the board of selectmen were to try to prevent the land owner from legally using his land, wouldn't that be a taking? The resolution that was brought forward for a vote was should the select board stop movement of the cemetery. Unfortunately, it is a case in the courts and the town is not the decision making body. In the mailbox thing, who can't sympathize with an 80 year old man whose mail box has been knocked down 3 times in the last month? The man's daughter came forth with a resolution that the town pay compensation for mailboxes destroyed by the town plow. Seems pretty straight forward, but the mail box is in the town's right of way. We wouldn't want the town to do an inadequate job plowing the road for fear of hitting a mailbox that is in the right of way. And there is already well established methods for getting compensation for the negligent acts of others through small claims. This is when a retired state politician stepped in and offered his amendment. He suggested that the board of select men study the problem and prepare a presentation for possible solutions for next years town meeting. Sounds like a blue ribbon commission. After about a half hour of debate about a $20 mail box, voters nearly unanimously rejected special consideration of mailboxes. At another unconnected point during the meeting, the town road crew was recognized for their efforts under a long winter with a loud round of applause.

We did get a nice presentation from the fire chief about the used rescue truck he would like to buy for the volunteer rescue squad. That's a $50K purchase. And the road budget was touched on, about $1.5 million.

But the $8 million elephant in the corner, the school budget, gets no discussion in town meeting. It's voted on by Australian ballet. When I went to the separate school budget meeting last year, the school supervisor gave a less than five minute presentation where she told us there was no wiggle room in the budget and the increase of 10% over last year was mandated by state law. She mad it obvious that she didn't want to answer questions and was not prepared to give details about the budget. She was asking for a more than $700K increase, but her presentation was not any where near as good as the one for the rescue truck.

It's a tried and true analysis of town meeting, we argue about the little things because those are the ones we have wiggle room on. The ones that really make a difference to us, like the road budget seem to big for us to make changes in. But it's a lot better than Australian ballot for the school budget. At the "informational meeting" for the school budget the Supervisor was able to tell us if we wanted to have input on the budget we needed to have joined the school board. Since there would be no vote at that meeting, she felt she could stonewall us. Town meeting may be inefficient process, but it is better than the alternatives.



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