Friday, February 29, 2008
Town government needs you
Town government depends on the help of residents who serve on boards and committees and each spring new volunteers are needed to step forward. Serving on town boards is a great way to meet other people in town and to help shape Carlisle’s future. Relevant expertise is always welcomed, but one does not need to be an engineer or attorney. Equally valuable contributions are made by anyone who brings a willingness to listen, to learn and to help the community.
For descriptions of the committees and boards, read the profiles that appeared in the Mosquito during 2007. All are available on the web at: www.carlislemosquito.org, click on “Resources” in the menu on the left side of the screen. (Another way to learn more about town government is to become a Mosquito reporter. )
Many boards and committees are elected positions and now is the time to consider volunteering, because while terms end in June, the process leading to elections will begin soon. Standing for election is easy. Candidate nominations will be made at the annual Town Caucus to be held this coming Monday, March 3, at 7 p.m. in the Clark Room at Town Hall. The meeting usually lasts only a few minutes. Bring a friend to nominate you, or call the Town Clerk for suggestions of past caucus attendees who might be glad to oblige. Those who decide to run for election after the caucus can do so by collecting the signatures of 26 registered Carlisle voters and filing nomination papers with the Town Clerk by March 25. The last day to register to vote is April 15, and the Town Election will be held on May 13.
You know the commercials, for a certain cell phone company. The common theme is a person who has family, home and business activities spread across half the globe and so lives in a place with a name resembling a compound German noun. Of course the cell phone company is everywhere. We may be fragmented, but our choice of cell phone will make us whole.
A little hokey. More than a little sad. But reflective of the way we live now, an age of mergers, acquisitions, consolidations, split-offs, re-combinations, endless rounds of name changes, and free-floating social networks. All arising from ongoing developments in computing, software, finance, and communications that make it possible for fewer people to run larger and better capitalized organizations. (Book plug: The Big Switch, by Carlisle resident Nicholas Carr.) Pretend as we might, as in the commercial, most people who sleep in Carlisle spend large portions of their time and energy somewhere else.
Yet this trend has yet to catch on in local government. Massachusetts has 351 cities and towns in an area no larger than some western U.S. counties. Despite the profligacy inherent in personnel and service duplication (how many school superintendents, municipal administrators, municipal IT help providers, and fire and police chiefs does a given population of 50,000 really need?), despite the limits to both State aid and local property taxes (some homes in Carlisle now appear to be assessed at more than their market value), heaven forbid we should consider whether this structure has outlived its usefulness. Born in a time when Town taxes supported the Town church (true well into the 1830s), when church attendance was limited by how far a family could reasonably walk in the winter, and virtually no one commuted to work, municipal multiplicity may now be an aesthetic preference we just can’t afford.
So, a modest proposal: Let’s take a fresh look at the way we deliver local government. We already share a high school with Concord (for which we are about to pay dearly —“ because Carlisle sends ever-increasing numbers of students relative to Concord) so why not share the rest of Concord’s government and its commercial tax base? But why stop there? If you match Carlisle and Boxborough (largely residential, no town water or sewer, about 5,000 souls each) with Acton and Concord (on commuter rail and highways, with broader public services and commercial tax bases) you have a combined municipality of about 50,000. That’s big enough to be much more efficient, small enough to stay locally responsive, and sized to enjoy more representation in the Legislature which often equates to more State aid. Another bonus: regionalizing compliance with 40B (Boxborough will soon exceed its 10% requirement by re-purposing an office zone as multi-family residential, Concord is also set to top 10%, and Acton is already north of 6%, while Carlisle lags at 1.9%). And despite the title of this piece, of course the new town would go by the name “Concord,” increasing all of our property values overnight.
Would there be cultural adjustments? Sure. But if Newton North and Newton South can manage a rivalry, CC and AB fans have no reason to worry. “Norman Rockwell” Town Meetings would give way to a representative Town Meeting —“ but that might just produce more detailed and ongoing fiscal oversight. Come on, Carlisle, our predecessors spent 50 years creating a District and then a Town to meet the realities of their age, let’s re-mold municipal government to fit our times and resources. Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for “Carcordactborough!”
© 2008 The