Friday, February 11, 2000
Fuzzy Picture with Grim Overtones
Few officials involved in managing the town's finances appear happy about the picture coming to light as the budget hearings continue. While the numbers being tossed about are still ballpark figures and likely to change, they reveal the outline of a rather grim scenario.
Last year, for FY99, taxpayers had seen a modest tax rate increase from $15.29 to $15.62. However, this year, they saw a whopping 13.9 percent increase to $17.80 per $1,000 in real estate valuation, meaning the owner of a $400,000 home paid a $7,120 tax bill. This was due to mounting long-term debt, including the Town Hall, school expansion and recreation fields, as well as the $374,000 operating budget override approved last spring.
With this as a back drop, the finance committee is now wrestling with expenses for the coming year, FY01. Even without an override, depending on how many previously approved long-term debt projects (such as Wang-Coombs, the library, school repairs and fire truck) are bonded, taxpayers might see a 5 to 6 percent increase, bumping the tax rate up another dollar, to $18.80 or $7,520 for a $400,000.
Facing some daunting requests for the coming year and aware of the state of affairs, FinCom chair Tony Allison has suggested that if they can "tweak" the budget, reduce the Concord-Carlisle High School budget and "significantly" decrease the Carlisle School budget, his "best case" scenario is a $250,000 to $300,000 override. If approved, this would force the tax rate up at least another 2 percent to $19.20 or $7,680 for a $400,000 house.
While residents may find this a bit high, it is well below what the departments have requested. Last week's Mosquito showed a total of $650,000 in requests over the finance committee's guideline. The budget-busters are the schools, $258,803 (Carlisle) and $232,196 (CCHS) over the guideline, the Gleason Library $119,501 over guideline, and police, fire and ambulance, $46,920 over. Officials are scrambling to avoid an override for $650,000 because they realize that, if approved, that sum could push the rate up at least another 3 percent to 19.75 or $7,900 for a $400,000 house.
While the finance committee might have uncovered an additional $200,000 in revenue, which would soften the blow, they have not yet heard the need for long-term capital requests, which typically include such large-ticket items as building repairs, technology and replacement vehicles. Other possible increases could arise from Minuteman Science-Technology High School, wages for town employees and health insurance premiums.
Without some restraint and continuing the current trend, one selectman said, "We could have a 50 percent increase in taxes over the next three years." For that reason, departments should tighten their belts a bit. Even so, taxpayers should assume that an override will be necessary to maintain the level of services to which they are accustomed. It would be unwise to allow sky-rocketing taxes to force some residents out of the picture or, alternatively, to force drastic budget cuts that would cause the attractive elements of the Carlisle scene to fade.
The Rising Generation
While traveling from Canterbury, New Hampshire, to the midwest in search of land, great-great-grandfather, Joseph Clough, Esq., entered the following item in his travelogue: "June 17th (1838), Cleaveland__ I have no where witnessed such a striking exhibition of the incontrovertible fact That, intemperance, Profanity, Gambling, Theatres, and Horseracing are the neverfailing subverters of religious principle and social Happiness. I have never witnessed in any place such blasphemy or the sacred name of a Saviour treated with such unceasing ridicule and contempt. Here the rising generation seem ripening for the most fearful end."
Clearly, our anxiety over the "rising generation" is nothing new. It's fed by a media which inundates us with negative behaviors of our youth and by our political leaders who, to further their quest for vouchers and privatization of public education, choose to release only information which supports the notion that our children are performing poorly. This latter practice causes a colleague of mine to suggest sarcastically that Massachusetts be renamed Lake Slowbegone where all children are below average.
These politicians and their media cohorts have ignored the fact that Massachusetts students placed fourth in the world and second in the nation on the Third International Science Study. And they have yet to publicize the 1999 U. S. Chemistry Olympiad Team's 1st Place standing in the world competition conducted in Australia last summer. Had the U. S. team done poorly, it would have received front page notoriety as one more example of a deficient generation.
My belief that today's young people are as intelligent and high-achieving as their predecessors is further supported by the fact that my sophomore chemistry students routinely master concepts that I first encountered while in graduate school at Dartmouth College and Cornell more than thirty years ago.
As in 1838, some teenagers behave inappropriately. And I share apprehensions similar to those of my great-great-grandfather with respect to current mores. But, collectively, the youth of today are "good folk." They log thousands of hours of volunteering as part of their school experience. There are the METCO students who arise at 5 a. m. to catch the bus for a 12-15 hour day in Concord as part of their quest for a more productive life. There is the tremendous music, art and drama that our young people provide us. There is their heightened sensitivity to and constructive involvement with complex issues involving alternative lifestyles, harassment, gender inequities, political oppression, child labor and the environment.
But, most poignantly for me, the true nature of our young people is exemplified by the love and caring that exuded from the CCHS student body at the time of my wife's death. The students hovered over me. They set aside political correctness and hugged me. They delivered me breakfast almost daily for an entire school year. They honored me with their yearbook dedication. These sensitive, warm and beautiful young people took real good care of me at a time when I needed to be "taken care of."
The next time you encounter negativism toward our "rising generation," please remember the ramblings of this old-timer whose life is spent largely in their company. And, when you encounter these good folk at home or in your travels, offer them genuinely warm smiles and maybe even a hug. Let them know that you care about them and have confidence in them. You'll be richly rewarded.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito