Friday, May 11, 2001
Like financial committees everywhere, the Carlisle Finance Committee is sometimes stereotyped as a conservative, anti-spending, just-say-no group of guys narrowly focused on minimizing budgets and dedicated to holding town boards and departments to artificially low guidelines. In recent interviews with the seven FinCom members, I explored these stereotypes and found that, while it is true that every board member is concerned with spending, there is variety of philosophy, background, and life circumstance that leads to divergence of opinion on many issues. To my surprise, I discovered that four of the seven have children in the public schools, but that attitudes toward school spending do not necessarily track with demographics; parents can be conservative on school spending while retirees can be generous. All, however, share a dedication to ensuring the town remains financially well-run, and to preparing the town to take on the burdens of future spending for schools and town growth.
Chairman Simon Platt, a partner at Deloitte and Touche, a Big 8 accounting firm, brings extensive financial experience to the FinCom. A resident of Carlisle since 1992, Platt joined the FinCom three years ago because Id been thinking about where I could contribute, and this seemed a match with my skill set. He and his wife Beth moved to Carlisle because it was a nice town with a great atmosphere and an excellent school system The Platts have three children in the Carlisle Public School. While he has an interest in the schools, Platt also points to my own neighborhood, where there are six or seven houses with retirees and says the [FinComs] real challenge is balancing different priorities.
According to the other FinCom members, Platt has been an effective chairman. Says Dave Ives, Simon has acted as a mentor to me. He really knows accounting, and hes a good communicator. Maybe most important, hes just a nice guy; he keeps everyone loose. Ives pauses, then adds, But you dont put anything over on him. Tony Allison agrees, Hes a good chairman. Hes level-headed and lets people speak their minds.
Platt believes the town is running reasonably well financially, with a bond rating that is very good, a well-funded police force, well-equipped fire department and schools that havent wanted for a lot. Platt points to increases in town spending over the past few years and warns, Spending today sometimes leads to indigestion two or three years later as the full costs impact tax bills. We have a lot of people retired and on fixed incomes. Im fearful of that indigestion if we dont moderate budget increases. Platt has found the chairmanship to take significantly more time than I had thought. He would like to continue to serve on the FinCom, but will step down as chairman.
John Nock is also new to the FinCom, having joined last summer. His background includes thirty years in engineering, where he has worked with costs, budgets, and scheduling. He has been in Carlisle, a town he values for its small-town atmosphere, since 1980. Nock has two children in Concord-Carlisle High School and his wife Cindy serves on the regional school committee.
Nock says he would like to understand the history and dynamics of school budget increases. The schools are half the town budget, and I think its important to understand historic trends and why increases happen. He adds, People are here [in Carlisle] because of the schools. I cant imagine another school system better than what we have here.
That said, Nock sees the FinComs role as prioritizing the needs of various departments.I dont think the town has unlimited money or unlimited votes [for overrides]. We need to be careful to support the right extras.
When asked about the role of the FinCom, he answers, Do we have power and influence? Id say our role is more like reassurance. We comment and give our views, but the voters decide.
Nock hopes to stay with the FinCom through a second term. Its a good thing to do. I believe more time spent on the board allows a better understanding of the history and trends. I expect to become increasingly useful as time goes by. (No photo of Nock was available.)
After receiving a bachelors in engineering from the University of Connecticut, and a masters from RPI, David Ives spent forty-one years in the computer industry at DEC and United Technologies. In 1967, Ives and his wife Natalie built a house on Heald Road where they raised their three children.
After his retirement, Ives felt a need to give something back now that I have the time. His work as a reporter for the Mosquito gave him a familiarity with the various boards. He felt an affinity for the FinCom where his facility with numbers and spreadsheets could be useful, and was appointed to the board two years ago.
Ives quickly established a niche as the numbers man. According to Tony Allison, Dave has done a great job on the spreadsheet and financial model. He has given us a much more reliable tool. We can trust the numbers because he is the keeper.
Ives strongly supports the schools. Our kids went through the Carlisle schools, got into good colleges and became productive adults. Im very grateful to the schools, and liberal on school spending. He laughs and adds, I know empty-nesters arent supposed to feel that way.
Ives has enjoyed his work on the FinCom. Im satisfied the town is well-run financially and that weve achieved a good balance. Its been a pleasure, and I look forward to another year.
Tony Allison graduated from Brown University where he studied political science, philosophy, and economics. In 1984 he joined a startup called DSR where he spent sixteen years in various positions, including vice president of sales and marketing. When the company was sold last year, Allison, who was an owner, decided to take some time off.
For three years he has served on the FinCom. He was recruited by Charlie Parker. It sounded like an interesting thing to do, and it has been. I have two children in the Carlisle school, and I thought it was time to learn how the town works. In his second year, he chaired the board.
Allison characterizes himself as conservative - I dont want to spend, but adds, Im the diplomatic conservative, where Charlie is more outspoken. Allison is particularly concerned that the tax rate in Carlisle is forcing out retired citizens. People talk about affordable housing, but if taxes keep rising as they have been, people on fixed incomes will not be able to afford to stay. My goal is to keep Carlisle affordable by controlling taxes.
When asked about the rewards of serving on the FinCom, Allison says, As Charlie [Parker] once told me Its a lot of work, but at the end of the day, you know where every dollar in this town goes. Serving on the FinCom has given me a great understanding of the wonderful people who run this town. The town employees are first-rate, and the dedication of our volunteers is very impressive. Unfortunately, we often have to tell them no.
Allison expects to continue on the board when his time is up. Its been fascinating, with an immense payback. For every hour Ive put in, Ive received twenty hours of satisfaction.
David Trask is a retiree who raised four children in Carlisle, where he has lived for forty years. He worked for many years as an engineer with responsibility for budgets, expenses, and planning. Companies he was associated with include General Electric, Detroit Controls, and Raytheon.
Trask likes the quiet, rural nature of Carlisle and his big yard where he gardens and enjoys outdoor activities. He was recruited to the FinCom by Selectman Doug Stevenson, and is finishing his first year as a FinCom member. I believe the town needs the participation of as many people as possible. Now that Im retired, I could spend the time and make my contribution.
While he finds the financial management of the town quite good, Trask is bothered that the schools have usurped too much town money. Weve had no recent big capital expenditures, yet weve had substantial overrides driven by the demands of the schools. Those demands are unreasonable and unjustified. Other town departments suffer, and so does the tax rate.
We have very good schools and a good library, but people like myself without kids may not find it economical to live here.
In addition to his conservative voice on school spending, Trask has taken the lead on helping the library solve its cost problems. I believe my expertise in cost-control has been well-utilized.
Trask believes the diversity of the FinCom is important. Referring to a town he knows where limits on spending have led to crumbling school buildings and an under-funded library, he adds, Id be concerned if the board was all old curmudgeons like myself.
Trask says he has found his first year very interesting. Our town government works well. Theres lots of participation by high-quality trained and talented people.
Larry Barton graduated from Bentley with a degree in accounting, and earned his MBA at Babson. He has held accounting, finance and consulting positions with small technology companies and has lived in Carlisle fifteen years. He currently is undergoing a career change and has made a priority of spending time with his wife Karen and two daughters.
Barton has served on the FinCom for almost one year. He became involved because he knew Simon Platt and I wanted to give back to the community. He sees his role on the board as a balancing voice - I have two children in the school and am open to school issues, but I dont support every request. He is concerned that Carlisle has one of the highest property taxes in the state. Were lucky voters have supported the school overrides, but I hope the schools arent complacent that this will always be the case.
Barton abstained from the FinCom vote on the Community Preservation Act which he believes leaves unanswered questions as to how it will be administered. He is also concerned that the FinCom will have no control over CPA funds. The FinCom needs to have overview so it can balance all the resources of the town.
Barton avoids being pigeon-holed, Im not a liberal and not a conservative. My approach is to think through an issue and try to come to a reasonable solution.
Charlie Parker has lived in Carlisle since 1983. After receiving an engineering degree from Cornell and an MBA in finance from Seton Hall, Parker worked for companies both large and small, including General Electric and Stone and Webster. He is currently working on his second start-up company. Charlie and his wife Gillian moved to Carlisle because we liked the atmosphere and could get more for our money. Their children were grown, so the schools were not a factor, altho ugh Parker says his experience raising two children has made him familiar with parental concerns regarding schools. His children currently reside in Lexington and Geneva, Switzerland, and he has four grandchildren.
Parker has served on the FinCom for eight years and has twice chaired the board. In addition, he has served on the Carlisle Municipal Land Committee and been associated with the Carlisle Land Trust. Although Parker is concerned with land-use issues and considers himself a friend of acquiring land, he opposes the Community Preservation Act. Im suspicious as to whether the state money will happen, and I think the tax burden is excessive.
Parker says his approach to financial issues is all over the map, but more often conservative. Asked to characterize his role on the board, Parker called himself the elder statesman, adding that he has the longest experience on the board and has picked and nominated many board memb
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