I have mixed feelings about what happened at the marathon deliberative session on February 1, 2020. I'm probably not alone.
I admit that I was disappointed that the taxpayers once again lost the game, but reflecting on the number of folks who showed up and watched it live on social media and TV proves that we still made significant progress.
If you're not a big fan of reading my often lengthy posts here is my conclusion about the potential tax impact of your ballots this year....if everything passes.
Last year we voted for the Town to receive $5,513,976 in budget and $812,000 in additional warrants. Total was: $6,325,976
This year we are being asked to vote for $5,874,725 in budget and $822,600 in warrants. The total new amount requested is: $6,697,325
That's an increase of : $371,349 or 5.8%
Last year we voted for the school to receive $10,605,989 for a budget and $745,824 in additional warrants. The total was: $11,351,813
This year they are asking us to vote for $11,269,924 for a budget and $964,966 in additional warrants. That's a total of: $12,234,890
That's an increase of $883,077 over last year or 7.7%.
So how much could it affect you? For every $100,000 that needs to be raised, the tax rate has the potential to increase is by 9 (nine) cents. Therefore, these increases have the potential to increase the tax rate 33 cents for the town portion and 79 cents for the School portion for a total potential tax rate increase of $1.12 per thousand. Our current tax rate is $12.47
Examples: a $200,000 assessed home tax bill could go up by $224.
A $500,000 assessed home tax bill could go up by $560.
I say potential because there is a lot in play. It might be less. Grants and revenues can come in that can lower this amount as well as higher evaluations and new properties in the tax base.
Getting back to the actual meeting, there was a wonderful turnout and I thank all those that were willing to come endure an eight hour ordeal without any lunch. The Town portion went fairly smooth. It only took a couple hours. A fair amount of questions were answered and the warrants stayed basically at the requested amounts. One motion, made by Rose Baxter to increase the amount being put away for bridges from $53k to $75K did pass. The money will come from our existing town surplus, not raised by new taxes.
Although I'm basically a supporter, it's important to note that the total Town increase is still about 6%, an amount I feel is unsustainable. However, the town budget is half that of the school, therefore the tax impact is less. For the most part, people feel they can trust the Selectmen and administration, so there wasn't a lot of concern raised. It's also admirable that all the Town employees didn't show up and try to stack the deck in their favor and make sure their budget passed. For the School part of the session, it was quite another story.
The school session was a replay of what we have been hearing all year......and last year....and the year before that. We were treated to seemingly endless diatribe from School Board members Tracey Kolb and Jen McCawley about how our taxes aren't as high as Rochester and Milton.....and how we are going to hurt the kids if we just don't give all for another year. It reminded me of a good old fashioned filibuster. I spoke a couple times sharing factual information that showed how much we have already given in support, (over $2,000,000 more since 2015) but the lengthy rebuttal was always a prediction of gloom and doom if we don’t give them everything they want. When they weren't reading from previously prepared scripts, a lot of it was smoke and mirror statistics and charts, much of which was inaccurate and confusing for folks who haven't had the time to wade through a 100+ page budget document.
The quote of the day came from Mark Kolb, School Board member Tracey Kolb's husband. He's been coming to meetings now and pops up like a whack-a-mole when he feels she needs support. He made a statement to the effect that we shouldn't worry about tax increases because the Massachusetts lakefront owners pay half of it anyway! He may not be getting a lot of party invites from his lake neighbors from Massachusetts when they return next summer.
Led by board member Tracey Kolb... Bob Oullette, Sandy Johnson and Jen McCawley have embraced an attitude that is going to continue to bend us over the sink and insert a probe deep into our wallets until we finally say stop by voting them out. Unfortunately, we will have to endure another year of her highness' reign. If she loves those Connecticut taxes so much, why doesn't she just get in her BMW and go back there? At least with Jen McCawley gone after March, the meetings should be about an hour shorter. That's a good thing.
A brave attempt to reduce the school budget by $200,000 was made by Norma Joy. This would have brought the budget increase down to a little over 4%, something I have been advocating as fair and affordable. Remember, they got over 9 percent last year. Every attempt to provide facts and truth was countered with endless confusing misinformation as Kolb and Mccawley brought out their tag-team play to wear their opponents down. The play worked. After 1:30 , a lot of the older folks who hadn't had any lunch started to trickle out. Some were shaking their heads. The majority that remained were primarily folks who were going to benefit from the budget and parents who have been frightened into believing that they must give all, for yet another year, because “it's for their kids.” I don't blame them for that. The amendment to reduce the budget was defeated 47-36.
One touchdown for the taxpayers happened when warrant article 7 (money for window replacements) was reduced from $250,000 down to $180,000.
The meeting went on until nearly 5 pm. I accept the result and I'm glad I participated, even though I didn't get the result I had hoped for...an affordable, sustainable tax increase.
My conclusion is that having both the Town and School deliberations on the same day might actually have a negative effect for taxpayers. Because it got so lengthy and went far past lunch, people became hungry and weary. The School Board took full advantage of the situation as they watched the older folks, who are probably more conservative, slowly leave. In the future, it might be more appropriate to start the meeting with the budgets that are going to affect your tax bill the greatest, while folks are fresh and the greatest number of people can participate. Or we could do the Town and School warrants on separate days.
Now that it's over, we look forward to voting day in March. The question we all need to wrestle with is: What do you think are affordable, sustainable tax increases? I feel bad for lots of people. You've got the parents of kids in the school. Every day they're told how wonderful everything is and how it would be even more wonderful if the school just had more money. Families who struggle to pay the bills are making sacrifices because as with all of us, our kids come first. But wait….we have been giving the school more….lots more…every year. Has it become more wonderful?
I feel bad for the older folks who got a mere 1.6% social security raise. It's getting harder for them to stay in their homes (and eat). And it’s School Board member Tracey Kolb who volunteers at the food pantry, giving needy folks food with one hand while she takes food off their tables as a consequence of her School Board position.
I feel bad for the teachers. They may become collateral damage in this tug of war. I'm good with a maximum of 4% per year for those who are receiving steps and a reasonable COLA for those who are not getting steps. I can't support the 8% increase that’s included for close to half of them in the proposed contract. During the negotiating process, they need to involve the taxpayers who will be required to foot the final bill. If we feel like we have been included as part of the solution making process, we’re much more likely to support it. I hope they will embrace that approach in future negotiations.
So, it’s on to the ballot box in March. I predict that a lot of residents may voice their displeasure at the ballot box in March by voting "No" on everything. This helps no one. If the School Board had only been willing to negotiate a little, give a little, we might have felt good about going to the polls and voting "yes". The best deals are made when each party gets most of what they want. But what did they do? They finished this encounter with a final thrust as they added $10,000 to a bloated budget to help cover the cost of a field trip. The additional money won't help the teachers. It won't buy supplies. Participation in something like this should be optional. Requiring taxpayers to fund this is just wrong. We sold candy bars way back when. Whatever happened to “go fund me”?
Didn't a politician recently say that elections are rigged? Look no further than your local School ballot for an appearance of it. The school administration has stacked the deck against us by somehow inflating the default budget so that it really doesn't matter how you vote on warrant article 4. They get almost the same money for their budget either way. The Administration’s magic act has been accomplished by shifting lines and moving budget amounts around so it’s nearly impossible to compare former expenses with those proposed. This has been done by a Business Administrator who told us 6 months ago that they were going to run out of money, yet they actually returned $154,000 at the end of the year!
But it really doesn’t matter. It’s a bottom line budget anyway. Once we have approved the amount on the ballot, they can spend the money nearly any way they want with a few exceptions.
I’m still asking for a fair game. I’m asking for fair, affordable, sustainable tax increases. You may not agree with all my opinions, but I try to share all the facts so you can form your own. The figures below represent reality. I hope to see everyone at the polls……and don’t drink the Kool Aid.
Five years of Wakefield School
budgets, warrants and student population
Budget (from ballot) Warrants (total from ballot)
2015 $8,688,412 + $615,373 =Total: $9,303,785
2016 $9,006,183 +3.6% $746,493 $9,752,676
2017 $9,426,836 +4.6% $337,352 $9,764,188
2018 $9,631,420 +2.1% $161,300 $9,792,720
2019 $10,605,989 +10% $745,824 $11,351,813
2020 Proposed $11,269,924 +6%
Proposed 2020 warrants total = $964,966 Total requested: $12,234,890
School Warrants 5 year average =$521,268
Students: Paul School & High School
2015 414 + 186=600
2016 423 + 184=607
2017 437 + 181=618
2018 470 + 183=653
2019 501 + 175=676