Have you ever heard the Greek myth of Cassandra, Princess of Troy? Legend has it that the pulchritudinous princess was blessed, or burdened depending on your point of view, with the gift of foresight. She could see the future. But as with all Greek myth, this gift came with a catch: no one would believe her when she warned them of what was to come.
And so here we are, in October of 2019, in much the same place we were in October of 2013 – facing down an $800,000 budget shortfall this coming year that will grow to well over seven figures the year following, and double in size by the following year if we maintain our present spending. When I ran for Select Board in 2016, I warned of this eventuality, giving name to our structural deficit.
For my trouble, I was laughed out of every room I brought it up in by the usual cast of characters who think being from Grafton is, in and of itself, an achievement. The same crew who thinks that they solved a problem by passing an override. The same crowd who is running the same candidates for office over and over again, excoriating new people and publicly longing for the good old days of acid-washed jeans and vintage Madonna. The same crowd who can’t help but take shots at me whenever, and however, they can.
And so I, Cassandra of Grafton, ask you – haven’t you seen enough from these guys yet?
If you have, do yourself a favor and vote for Lisa Rice on Tuesday.
Why? Well, first of all, I like the people who do the work. I have an enormous bias for people who show up, put in the time, think critically and are outspoken in favor of their ideals. Everyone else comes in second to me behind those people, fair or unfair. Lisa is one of those people.
Lisa is one of a few people in town who I know knows what she is talking about. Who has done the work. Who asks the hard questions. Who isn’t afraid to be “unpopular”. Who is unafraid of criticism, and who will be unafraid to stand up to me or anyone else on the Select Board in the coming year, which may well prove to be the most difficult since 2014, in service of her ideals. When Lisa calls, I pick up the phone. When she has thoughts, I listen. Because I know she has put in the time over the years to understand the intricacies of town finance, that she’s an honest broker, and that she’s going to work hard to see this all through.
We’re just months away from our next operational override proposal, having spent down our 2014 override money. The committee that I proposed three and a half years ago to address the structural deficit is just now getting started because our former Selectmen and their supporters (and candidates) said we didn’t need another committee. That crew excoriated me for wanting accurate budget projections a year ago that didn’t include unrealistic new growth numbers. The updated, more accurate projections that we have now confirm the structural deficit I warned about hitting us this spring. And still, efforts at reform are met with opposition every step of the way.
To be clear: I’m no fiscal conservative (good for you if you are). I just want to make investments in this town and have everyone be on the same page about it. I’m a publicly educated liberal who owes everything he has to the investments that his neighbors made in him. I want to keep those investments going for my kids and their kids on down the line. And the more we fib to people about how we got where we are, the less likely they’ll be to pony up when asked again. Fear and cynicism are the enemy, and we become the architects of our own demise when we’re less than candid about where we are financially.
So, it’s important that in Tuesday’s election, which could well set a “voting block” for the upcoming budget discussion, that we’re on the same page moving forward. At stake: nothing less than the immediate financial fate of an exurban town of 20,000 people with a limited commercial base. A town with over 3,000 school kids who look to us for their futures. A town responsible with its money, and living on a razor’s edge financially. A town that will not reap the benefits of state education reform. A town in desperate need of leaders who will take this all very seriously.
In that light, there are a couple of issues that I want to address: First, I’ve heard from multiple people who have sent along multiple screen shots from various emails and text messages that Donna Stock supporters firmly believe that she will curtail adult use marijuana sales in Grafton, and presumably forego the revenue that comes with it. Donna denies that this is her position.
While I find it hard to believe that this is Donna’s position, whether it is or not is almost beside the point. A fair number of people seem to think that it’s her position, and she’s done nothing much to dissuade anyone from that notion, including failing to address my own public question to her on this from a couple of weeks ago when I first heard that she planned on somehow curtailing marijuana sales. Were it me I would vociferously deny any policy position that i did not endorse, even if it cost me votes.
To be clear: adult use marijuana isn’t going anywhere, no matter who you elect. I’m pretty sure both Lisa Rice and Donna Stock know this. So, let’s take that issue off of the table, shall we.
Second, we have a structural deficit. It requires that we pay municipal employees competitively, and 80% of our budget is salaries. What policies, if any, should we put in place to make sure that the structural deficit does not continue? Will we continue to treat the town side budget as a completely separate animal from the school side budget? Will we focus on artificial percentage allotments to each as we have in the past? Will we commit to best practices and hold the Town Administrator accountable?
We missed an enormous opportunity in 2014 after we passed the override. We could have, and should have, initiated a task force to figure out how to avoid being in the same position just six years later. But we didn’t. We told everyone we “solved” the problem. We absolutely did not. We put the school committee on an island, denied that we had a fiscal problem, and then told them to go negotiate with their union who heard loud and clear that Grafton was a-okay financially. What a clown show.
Will we do that again? Will we continue to chastise elected officials who question budget numbers while alienating the Finance and School Committees? I guess we’ll see. Just last meeting, I floated the idea of meeting with the School Committee and Finance Committee to discuss these issues, and got resistance from one of my peers about meeting with FinComm. My critics on the Select Board, past and present, hate and fear criticism and change. In that order. So, this should be interesting.
There will be an override proposal in 2020. There will be adult use marijuana sales in Grafton in 2020. Fighting against adult use marijuana sales would deny our town money to fund services, like schools. Anyone who tells you differently is lying to you. Vote accordingly.
Vote Lisa Rice.