Friday, January 18, 2008
It's the economy, Carlisle
If we believe the political pundits — and after their New Hampshire debacle, should we? — Americans now are more concerned about the economy than the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The war is distant, casualties are fewer and the public has been numbed by a war without end that does not directly affect most of us.
The state of the economy affects us all, regardless of our income level. Are we headed for a recession? Are we in one? Who knows? Whether or not the global economy stumbles badly in 2008, we are aware that Carlisle faces tough times ahead; the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee (FinCom) have been raising the warning flags for months.
Now FinCom has begun its review of town budgets prior to its recommendations in March to the Selectmen, who will set the Warrant for Town Meeting on May 5. FinCom recommends a 0% growth budget for the schools and town offices — a draconian concept that is difficult to swallow in these challenging times. Concord-Carlisle High School administrators warn of teacher layoffs, larger classes and cuts in programs and sports if Carlisle's no-growth guidelines are met. The Carlisle Public School also raised alarms when its level-services budget was more than $600,000 over FY08 spending. At Town Hall, positions lost to resignations may not be filled and an air of uncertainty hangs over town officials worried about possible layoffs and cuts in town services.
We are pummeled on all sides by tough economic news, from sky-high fuel costs to the flat housing market to the wobbly stock market. There isn't much we can do about these problems, except to vote for a presidential candidate in November who we believe offers a viable economic plan.
But at the local level, we can do something. We can inform ourselves now about the financial choices that lie ahead — well before Town Meeting. A good place to start is the December 7, 2007, Mosquito in which FinCom chair David Model explains in detail how the fiscal crisis evolved and lays out the challenges facing FinCom in the years to come.
Once informed, we can get involved — go to School Committee and FinCom review meetings, ask questions, share ideas. Carlisle has a well-educated citizenry that could propose innovative, revenue-producing strategies and provide guidance on budgeting priorities. No one wants to see our schools decline or our town services cut. Is an override the only answer to our fiscal woes? If proposed, will it pass or is this the override to which voters say, "Enough?"
The time to get involved is now, during the budget formation process, not just before Town Meeting. The economic future of the town depends on you.
Palliating the Grinch
December is always a very thought-provoking, emotional, sometimes conflict-laden month for a host of reasons most of which we shouldn't discuss in this space. However, one of the issues that always presses on my angst-button is the role and importance of shopping during the holiday season. I know it is a boy-thing but I cannot stand shopping. The lines, the me-first competitiveness, the Jones effect (as in "keeping up with") — it is all too much. Black Friday is utter anathema! I think it is a conspiracy to weaken our national will power to resist "lemmingness," or a plot to see if we in America are really all a bunch of sheep. Now, I do understand that there are certain material expectations that arise during December that have a little more urgency than the rest of the Hallmark holidays that dot our calendars. And I am anxious to be able to fulfill some of those material expectations as I am singularly inept at dispensing spiritual gifts. So this year I came up with a new way of thinking about how I could feel better about December and the events that bring it to a hopefully satisfactory conclusion.
Apart from considering the tax-benefits of year-end giving and the relief (and grief) that another year is behind me, I decided to view the December holidays as an investment period. This may seem obvious to some: we are arguably shopping as an investment in our loved ones' appreciation of ourselves as generous and loving adults. I have come to see this as having the cart before the horse, as it were. If I am going to spend my money on the joyous expectations of holiday unwrappings, somebody else must also reap a similar benefit (and I hope they will know it).
To shop is to invest and we should select our shopping venues with the same care that we would exercise in selecting a mutual fund or other investment instrument. Over the years, I have come to appreciate the interpersonal pleasures of investing in the businesses I know, and any good economist would tell you to invest where your resources will do the most good (however that might be defined). Certainly, the "buy local" concept is much heralded in the food business. Most of us want to shop local producers if only to insure that some semblance of our agricultural landscape will survive. The same thought process should be applied to our daily purchases, especially during the holidays. If we are to save our local businesses, business owners and streetscapes, we must feel compelled to support them. Our gift dollars are really no different than our food dollars and I would prefer to spend them where and when I can to support local entrepreneurs and artisans. Thus, a trip to the Christmas Tree Shop is taboo. It may save me a few dollars but do I really want to support Cape Cod knock-offs made in Pu-dong? I am quite willing to pay a small premium to know that I am keeping a few local entrepreneurs in business in the same way that I feel good about helping to support the Carlisle Fire and Police Departments or the Mosquito Fund. Tip O'Neill would also have been correct if he had declared that all shopping should be local (especially if we are not trying to save money). We should be trying to take care of the local businesses who are trying to take care of us.
© 2008 The