Friday, March 2, 2007
How much can Carlisle afford?
The model recently developed by the Long-Term Financial Planning Committee predicts that the annual increase in operating expenses alone will cause taxes to rise faster than the median salary level. Taxes will consume a larger portion of our income, even before proposed school building projects and other long-term capital needs. While it would be nice if average wealth increased fast enough to allow the town to afford everything, it makes sense to consider and prepare for the more austere future that is predicted.
What do we do about it? The committee's report called for a "top-level prioritization," because "we will not be able to do everything." Over the years others have also recommended prioritizing the major capital projects facing the town. What is the best process to pull together a consensus? We are used to voting sequentially on items at Town Meeting, not judging the merits of many projects simultaneously. The committee suggests a way to start: discussions among relevant town boards, public education and feedback, and leadership by the Selectmen. Perhaps another town-wide planning day might be useful at some point to help focus priorities.
First, though, gathering additional information might be helpful. Would postponing school building projects in hopes of 40% state reimbursement be prudent, or would the ongoing escalation in construction costs wipe out any savings from state aid?
The committee suggests the town could save money depending on how it meets the goal to create more affordable housing. What are the costs and other factors involved in the various options — private partnerships, public projects, rental, owner-occupied, pure affordable developments or mixed affordable/market rate housing? What is the best strategy for Carlisle?
It might be worthwhile comparing the predicted tax burden as a percent of median income against historical values. Has the town weathered this situation before?
The committee's report notes, "Population demographics may have a profound effect on future tax tolerance and demand for services." Our choices and the resulting taxes may also affect the town's future demographics.
There's no substitute for great teamwork
It is time to thank everyone who has helped fill in for me much of the past seven weeks while my son was in the hospital. When I was unable to be in the office editing the news, others took up whatever tasks needed to be done. News reporters were patient through the occasional chaos, and former editors Maya Liteplo and Mary Hult came back to pitch in. Penny Zezima generously handled the letters to the editor. Hopefully, readers did not notice all the unusual action behind the scenes. This may be an example proving the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." Thanks! — Betsy Fell, news editor.
Who can read Elizabeth Bishop's poignant line, "The art of losing isn't hard to master," without believing at heart that the poet means just the opposite of what she says? Last week, I lost a pearl earring, a Christmas present from my beloved husband, and for a day I told my disappointed heart that it was just a material thing. No disaster. Yet how quickly did I attach significance to the matched pair that the loss became tragically symbolic. What bliss to walk into my office the next morning and find the brilliant nugget winking at me from the middle of my desk. I could not have been more pleased if it were the return of the prodigal son.
What struck me after the incident was the almost immediate thought of the Bishop poem, One Art. I'm still a far cry from Cordelia Gray, P.D. James' verse-quoting sleuth, who can effortlessly drop into conversation a choice reference from any of a number of early romantic English poets. But I'm slowly filling in the gaps of my Ivy League education and am becoming more able at least to recall a line of poetic beauty that parallels my feelings. I attribute this chapter in my life-long learning directly to my recent years in Carlisle.
When we moved to Carlisle, coming up on ten years ago, I felt that we were moving to Laura Ingalls Wilder's little house in the big woods. Living with no view of any other human habitation, I expected such seclusion that we would have to rely on ourselves for entertainment. Luckily, Carlisle has no dearth of like-minded self-reliant entertainers. For the past four years my husband and I have had the great pleasure of being part of a poetry group hosted by John and Ann Ballantine. The group's poetry selections often evoke no audience response except exhales of appreciation and a mental note to remember a poet who resonates, but the choices are read with drama and open a tiny window on the reader's personality. A shorter but more intense initiation into the possibilities of poetry was the icebreaker at last year's First Parish women's retreat, an interactive getting-to-know-you session created by Patti Russo, Carlisle's own certified poetry therapist. The task was to read Possibilities by Wislawa Szymborska, then take five minutes to list our preferences. I repeat my attempt here with no further editing but with a reminder that the original was written by a Nobel laureate:
I prefer caf to decaf.
I prefer hugs.
I prefer flannel nightgowns.
I prefer comedies.
I prefer my own cooking.
I prefer mismatched furniture.
I prefer stark contrasts.
I prefer the white bark of the birch to white water on the waves.
I prefer to work with people who do their share.
I prefer flowers that deer also prefer.
Such an unpremeditated capsule portrait of me would be embarrassing ("Ah yes, this woman eats her oatmeal while drinking coffee in her flannel nightgown sitting in a misfit chair. How fascinating!") if it were clearly not just a warm-up. The beauty of poetry is not that it paints the whole picture, but rather renders the essential outlines that let us color them in any fanciful way we prefer. Room for personal interpretation is what makes it easier to recall a line like "the art of losing" and connect it to personal experience.
© 2007 The