"Guess, gamble and hope" are part of any town's financial planning

Struggling with the town budget is a problem shared throughout the years by towns everywhere. Do the following words sound vaguely familiar?

"At year's end 90% of the taxes were paid; quite remarkable considering layoffs and reduced paychecks many of our citizens suffered. We were able to get through the year without borrowing tax-anticipation money. This won't always be possible, especially when confronted with large bills during those periods when our income is low. Some weeks are squeakers and antacid consumption gets pretty high.

"Last year's record snowfall helped create the overdraft in our Winter Roads account, and excessive ice this winter threatens to do the same. It appears that budgeting for winter is a matter of guess, gamble, and hope."

The words above were written by Philip Burrill, Town Manager of Corinna, Maine for their 1987 Annual Town Report.* (I found it mixed in with copies of Carlisle's annual reports which were recently donated to the Mosquito. The donations were all greatly appreciated, and the Mosquito now has a wonderful collection, for use as background data for articles - and editorials!)

Towns can learn a lot from each other, since they share many of the same challenges. In Massachusetts there are several organizations that help towns share information, including the Mass. Association of Conservation Commissions, the Mass. Municipal Association, Mass. Association of Town Finance Committees, the Mass. Selectmen's Association, and the Small Town Administrators of Massachusetts.

Even drawing on these sources, the uncertainties in the state budget means Carlisle can't eliminate all the "guess and gamble" from budget planning.

Carlisle's town boards and committees have worked very hard to prepare a budget for fiscal year 2004 that will be affordable without large cuts in services. In large part, this was accomplished by delaying renovation plans for both the K-8 school and the regional high school. Aside from the plans for expansion, if structures are in need of repair, renovations cannot be delayed indefinitely without further deterioration to the buildings.

Attend Town Meeting on May 5 with gratitude for the hard work done by those in town government; with hope for a better economy in the near future; and perhaps with some antacid kept handy.

*(Unlike the Corinna of 1987, Carlisle did resort to short-term borrowing this year, due to delays in state aid.)

In praise of the Carlisle Senior Band

On April 5 the Carlisle Middle School Senior Band performed at the annual MICCA festival in Lexington. The best middle school and high school bands from across the state compete for gold, silver, and bronze medals. Those who won the gold were to be invited to perform at Tanglewood on Mothers' Day. Prior to this year's competition, the Carlisle Senior Band had won 15 straight gold medals. Such a string can produce the jitters. Would this year's band be the first to slip to a silver? Many talented players graduated last year (as they always do).

The Senior Band performed three challenging pieces: one from the Renaissance, and two more modern compositions. Suddenly, problems the band had experienced in previous rehearsals and concerts melted away. The students came together and played beyond themselves for 20 glorious minutes.

It is always hard to explain the Carlisle Senior Band to those who have never heard it. How can fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth graders, some who have been playing for only a couple of years, sound anything other than, well, junior? I have tried to explain the harmonizing brass instruments, the mellow notes of the French horns, the vivacious piccolos to the uninitiated. Their eyes glaze over. If they agree with me, maybe I'll leave off my rhapsody.

One feature of the MICCA competition is a visit by a judge after each band has played. The judge critiques the band and conducts a short workshop. Our judge began by remarking that all middle school bands should be required to hear the Carlisle Senior Band, simply to know and appreciate what a middle school band can sound like. (Here, I suspected we might have another gold.) The judge also remarked on the number of parents who attended the competition. (We had all packed into the workshop classroom, ringing our children.) The judge was vivacious, demanding, skillful. He asked the musicians to vocalize their parts. He then asked the flutes to play their instruments without blowing on them, to make the fingering more exact. Working with a few musical passages, he showed the band how to reach a new level.

Within another hour the Senior Band had its sixteenth straight gold medal and another trip to Tanglewood.

Such excellence does not come easily. Parents and students have to structure time for lessons and home practice. Students have to buy into the culture of the band experience. The school itself has to support the band program with allocations of time, space and resources.

But the key to the Senior Band, to any band really, lies in the director. Tom O'Halloran ("Mr. O" to his bands) teaches every instrument to beginning 4th grade students; conducts four separate bands totaling well over one hundred students; oversees the school's collection of instruments; aids the citrus fruit fund raisers and arranges trips to Tanglewood (Washington, D.C. and Disney World in the past). This is only a short list of what Mr. O manages to do. He could easily direct a college level music program. Thankfully, he is here with us.

Several years ago Senator Kennedy came to Carlisle to celebrate the purchase of conservation land. The Senior Band played at the event. The senator attends lots of ceremonies and hears lots of school bands. He dutifully praised the local leaders who consummated the land deal. Then he remarked, with unsolicited astonishment, on the excellence of the band.

If you haven't heard the Carlisle Senior Band yet, attend a concert · if only to know and appreciate what a middle school band can sound like.