Friday, April 18, 2003
LWV Forum • What did we learn?
For those attending last Sunday afternoon's Candidates Forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, here was an excellent opportunity to see and hear from those running for town office in the upcoming election on May 13. All of the candidates gave a clear reason for why they were running, gave their qualifications, and then answered questions from the audience. While there are three contested offices, let me focus on the three candidates running for two contested seats on the Board of Selectmen Doug Stevenson, Tony Allison and Francene Amari-Faulkner and where they stand on the issues.
Addressing questions relating to the balance between fiscal conservatism and the need for popular services, here is what they had to say.
Affordable housing and the state's 40B mandate: All three candidates were skeptical about 40B really working in Carlisle. Amari-Faulkner noted environmental reasons, while Allison cited the lack of infrastructure. (See Housing Authority candidate Jack Bromley's perspective on 40B on page 5)
The $150,000 footpath construction proposal: Allison has voted against it on the FinCom and feels there are more important priorities this year. Stevenson has supported the school loop proposal, but can't support the $150,000 five-year plan to build pathways along major roads in the center of town. Amari-Faulkner, a resident of the town center, supports footpaths for public safety reasons, but recommends exploring creative financing for the project.
The Community Preservation Act (CPA) question drew this response from the candidates: Allison says accepting matching funds from the state is great, but is not so sure about over-taxing today in order to under-tax later. Stevenson does not support CPA. In contrast, Amari-Faulkner is thoroughly behind it.
What thoughts did I come away with in regard to this race for selectmen? There seems to be a very clear choice. Do we simply want to keep our taxes down, or do we continue to improve the quality of life which brought many of us to Carlisle, and which was so positively articulated at last month's Planning Day?
Thinking Long Term
I started this column with the idea of writing a light-hearted satire about user fees, advocating a sort of menu approach to town finance. I had some jokes about turnstiles at Town Hall offices, fees for attending Town Meeting and surcharges for speaking. I'd call for preauthorization for visits to the school nurse, with fees based on the nature of the malady. TLC extra.
I was going to propose three tiers of tax-paying options: basic access, Carlislean Lite, and the Works. For a really low rate, the basic would get you in and out of Carlisle, but nothing else. Perfect for childless homebodies with high risk tolerance. Carlislean Lite, at a medium rate, would provide 12/5 (as opposed to 24/7) police and fire coverage (good for the household that can schedule its emergencies), and basic schooling by teachers who can't afford to live within 40 miles of Carlisle. The Works would give you access to everything, including fairly paid town professionals and teachers, good school programs, round-the-clock fire and police protection. Pretty close to what we have now.
But I decided against submitting my first draft. I was worried someone wouldn't notice the tongue in my cheek and would take me up on the idea. And, even though I believe that fees and pay-as-you-go government are anti-community, this isn't really the point I want to make.
I think everyone understands that the quality of our schools is the biggest factor driving Carlisle real estate values. But we differ as to how much funding can be squeezed before it hurts • and how much hurt is acceptable. I can say with certainty that the pain is felt immediately at the schools, but I know it won't show up in MCAS scores for a few years, and it could be even longer before a pattern emerges that would affect the desirability of buying a house here. The degree to which budget cuts matter to you may depend on your circumstances and time horizon.
My simple point is that we shouldn't be shortsighted. Just as you might argue that every year, the percentage by which we increase the budget becomes a part of the base budget the next year, and so on, we also need to see that for every year we fail to fund important services, it takes a greater percentage increase later to catch up or restore cut programs.
I know there are people in town who are struggling. And I believe there should be tax abatements and deferrals for people who have lost jobs (these people will be good taxpayers again) and possibly reduced rates for elderly townspeople whose incomes fall below a certain level.
With the level of funding contained in the override to be voted in May, most departments are going to feel some pain, not least the schools. I respectfully ask that we think of the funding request not in terms of forgoing luxury, as some suggested last year, but as a calculated approach to the future. And to the notion of community.
© 2003 The