Best intentions

Tomorrow will be the Deliberative Session.  For the uninitiated, that’s the opening act in the annual town meeting process.  The second part is the actual ballot voting in March.  The warrant has been posted and hundred or so citizens will show up to discuss and possibly amend the articles as developed by the Selectmen.  In more than a few past years, the real decisions on some significant issues have been significantly influenced or outright decided at the “Deliberative”.

This year there is one article submitted by citizen petition:

ARTICLE 23: PETITION WARRANT ARTICLE

To see if the town will vote to require that all votes of the governing body and budget committee relative to budget items or any warrant article shall be recorded votes and the numeric tally of any such vote shall be printed on the town warrant next to the affected warrant article and further to require that the annual budget and all special warrant articles having a tax impact, as determined by the governing body, shall contain a notation stating the estimated tax impact of the article in accordance with RSA 32:5 V-a and b.

Sounds great doesn’t it?  I’m sure that the petitioners feel that this will serve to give pause to voters when considering expenditures.  Let’s take a closer look:

The first part will require that any vote of approval or disapproval by the Budget Committee and Selectmen be shown on the warrant.  We have been doing that voluntarily for several years now, and are unlikely to stop.

The second part is what troubles me – estimating the tax impact of all warrant articles and placing it on the ballot.  I’m not sure how that would work.  OK, the budget is an annual thing, and they could divide the amount by the tax base to determine the contribution that the budget makes to the town tax rate.  But how is that expressed?  The RSA isn’t clear on that.  Do they give the actual rate or the difference +/- from the prior year’s budget contribution?  It would seem that the difference relative to the prior year would be the useful figure, but I don’t see where that’s defined.

What about non-bonded expenditures like contributions to reserve accounts and the annual town road upgrades?  Are these expressed in absolute terms or as the net change from last year? Who decides?

Finally, what about bonded items?  The tax rate impact varies with interest rates and more significantly with the term of the bond.  The term is decided by the Selectmen on recommendation from the finance department, sometimes a year or more after the article is approved.  Does the article state the tax impact in the first year, last year, or average annual impact over the anticipated life of the bond?

Take a look at the new car adds in the Newspaper.  Many don’t actually state the price of the car, only the minimum monthly payment. Is that how we should be making decisions about town spending?  I like the old fashioned method of just considering the whole amount of each article.

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