by Glenn C. Koenig, webmaster at Town Wide Mall
After some delay, I have now revised my report on Maynard's Town Meeting to correct some errors and add some information originally omitted.
The presentation, discussion, and votes on Articles 4, 6 and 7 was unusually complex, when compared to town meetings of the recent past, thus preparing my report was especially difficult. I want to thank the variety of individuals who commented on the report, both here and on social media, or answered my questions in telephone conversations and e-mail messages later on, in helping me to update the original story posted back then.
Legislatures (of which town meeting is one) typically do not do well with long term planning. This is no ones fault, exactly. Instead, it's largely the result of what the representatives (or voters who participate) are asked to do: focus just on the budget for the next year ahead, and make all the decisions in a rather short time frame.
By law, except for bond issues and certain other specific actions, town meetings are not allowed to "bind" or restrict the actions of future meetings. You vote with the future in mind, perhaps, but you cannot actually set down what it will be after the end of the next fiscal year (July of 2024, as I write this).
And yet, the complexity of the recent town meeting seems to indicate that we need to face important questions regarding our plans for the next few years, at least, lest contention at town meeting becomes more intense.
One major long term decision is now front and center for the town: The prospect of building an entire new elementary school, to be paid for by an increase in property taxes that will continue for the next 20 years. In October, the Town Meeting will likely be presented with a vote on whether to go ahead with the project. If that passes, then the question moves on to the entire voting public in town, who will be asked to cast ballots in November on whether to approve or disapprove the borrowing of the funds (known as a "bond issue") and the tax increase that will be needed to pay it all back over the 20 year period.
There are other questions regarding long term planning that don't have as well defined time limits, yet are easily just as important for the proper functioning of the town's other services, and quality of life here, in general.
Unfortunately, there isn't much time for most of us to dig into the issues involved. In July and August, many people are away on vacation, so very few meetings are held and often very little gets done. After all, who wants to sit indoors for hours when the weather is warm and various recreational activities are available for just two months?
By September, there won't be much time left for voters to catch up on what they may want to know before making these decisions. For many people, spreadsheets full of numbers take too much time to process. What's needed it a clear overview that lays out in plain language and simple graphics what's at stake, at least financially.
This is the challenge for those on committees and people deep into the financial details. How do we step back from the details and provide a good summary? I hope to help in this process here at Town Wide Mall, however, I can only do so much. Many aspects of taxes and public policy are highly controversial, so presenting this information responsibly presents a delicate challenge.
Long term planning is especially difficult in these times of rapid change and unexpected events. The pandemic is a recent example. And yet, we cannot sit by and do nothing, or expect that business as usual will suffice. We must do what we can to prepare for and make reasonable decisions.