Controlling costs is key in budget
As we move into the middle stages of budget preparation for the next budget, it is apparent that the current state of the economy is not necessarily agreed upon by everyone. From my perspective, the local economy continues to struggle. Money is tight for everyone and personal budgets are strained.Government budgets? It looks like mana is falling from heaven. Get out the dump trucks and street sweepers to gather the cash littering the streets! Everybody wants more. They need more — just a little more and everything will fall into place perfectly. Our federal government is setting a wonderful example of this attitude, so why not have that theory apply to local governments, too?Repeat after me: “The money ain’t there.”Even worse, if we do absolutely nothing and simply adopt the same budget, we lose ground. Why? Personnel costs, pension contributions and medical benefits are expected to rise by nearly 15 percent. How much longer can we sustain ourselves by doing nothing, and sinking deeper and deeper? We have to change attitudes and tactics. I haven’t been here for a full year, and it’s been frustrating. How have you all accepted this situation for decades? Do you want to change? Perhaps a more disheartening question is: do you care?Let me take a chance and assume that some of you do care. This community, in my opinion, has substantial untapped potential. We have to stabilize ourselves first, and to do that, we have to control our costs.How can we do that? I need to present a budget to the Board of Selectmen that demonstrates I am committed to change. We obviously cannot keep doing the same thing, so that means we have to change.Another key note: Change will upset some people. So, an early consideration is do we have the band keep playing as we sink to keep everyone happy or do we crack some eggs to make a new omelet? (Sorry for the mixed metaphors.) Well, it’s been awhile since I broke out my trumpet, but I made an omelet last weekend. Let’s go!What will be my philosophy in my first Winchester budget? Control costs. This means that personnel, pensions and medical benefits will be closely scrutinized for savings. I do not expect to add any personnel, except perhaps as part of a larger reorganization effort. I have yet to meet individually with department supervisors about their preliminary budgets, but desires for additional staff will be met with initial resistance. Again, personnel costs need to be contained, and adding staff with the additional ancillary costs are the most significant portion of a public budget.I need to work with the Board of Selectmen to determine what priorities they, as elected representatives of the community, want to pursue. I will have to examine funding opportunities and resources for those projects, giving the selectmen sufficient objective information upon which they can make an informed decision. I encourage you to share your thoughts with the selectmen.If I can demonstrate to the community that I am controlling costs, only then can I consider seeking additional funding for critical infrastructure projects. I need to work with key leaders to develop road plans and vehicle plans and other infrastructure plans that I can share with you. All of these plans will take money that, for the most part, won’t come from anywhere else other than our pockets.I need to demonstrate to you that I can be a good steward of the town revenues. If I can demonstrate to you that projects will be properly developed and completed, then I will move on to more projects and opportunities. Yes, it will take a long time to overcome the many years of neglect for some infrastructure, but we have to start (unless, of course, you don’t care).I want to find a way to greatly restrict revenues for the intended purposes. If I say that I need money to build a road, I want the money to be spent on drainage and pavement for a road, not quietly swept into consultants’ pockets. I want you to be able to touch or see our capital improvements, whether it’s a road, a fire truck or a police station.So, do I expect that you will see some increase to your tax bill? Most likely, but I will have to ably inform and defend to any resident what that money is for and how it will be spent. I have to control costs first, and be able to show you and the selectmen how those costs are being controlled. I expect every department and agency to be able to demonstrate the same. If not, we are failing you.What do you want in your omelet? Dale Martin is the town manager of Winchester.