By S.D. Plissken | October 13, 2018
Milton has “enjoyed” an unprecedented increase in the size and cost of its Town government for over a decade now. That cost increase has been greater than the official rates of inflation over the same period. It has certainly been increasing faster than the disposable incomes of those who are being taxed to cover it.
Some have characterized this increase trend as an unprecedented “engorgement” of Town government. Now, when a snake swallows a goat or a lion eats a gazelle, they seek some safe spot to lay quietly while they digest their meal. We have the same impulse after Thanksgiving dinner. (Sherlock Holmes never eats while he is on a case). Is it not time for the Town government to take a nap? A good, long nap, long enough for everyone else to wash the dishes.
If Town budgets increase at rates greater than taxpayer incomes do, that necessarily represents a redistribution – a net decrease in taxpayer incomes and a corresponding net increase in the proportion taken by Town government.
Obviously, that can not continue for long – it is the very definition of unsustainable. The trendline of what the Town wants and that of what the taxpayer can afford have long since diverged. Its logical end point is the bankruptcy of the taxpayer.
Anybody following local social media will have seen comments, quite a few of them, from people who have left Milton, who are in the process of leaving Milton, or who feel that they will have to leave Milton soon. That is only anecdotal evidence but, logically, it would have to happen at some point. You might consider these poor souls as our canaries in the coal mine. They serve as a warning that the air is getting bad here.
The supposed point of a Capital Improvement Program (CIP) plan is to prevent individual Town budget “spikes,” of larger-than-usual expenses, by spreading them out over a number of years. That is what we have been told, over and over again.
But, in order to be sustainable, Town budgets should not rise at rates that are greater than the rate of inflation. If the CIP plan consistently recommends an unsustainable spending trendline, one that is consistently rising above the rate of inflation – then the plan is itself just one giant combined “spike.”
Chairman Thibeault read some “highlights” from the CIP at the last Board of Selectman’s (BOS) meeting. Near the end of his recitation:
Chairman Thibeault: The [Planning] Board continues to recommend the potential increase of no more than 3% for year-over-year total capital expenses. This current … for 2018-19 stands at approximately 3.8%.
The Federal government’s year-over-year inflation rate for 2017 (the year upon which this year’s Town budget should be based) was 2.1%. The Planning Board recommended an increase of “no more than 3%.” Obviously, that would be far too much. The additional 3.8% figure, where 2018-29 “stands,” would be nearly double the rate of inflation. Cloud-Cuckoo-Land really.
We are now entering the BOS budget season. Let us establish some performance metrics for them. If their overall budget number comes in larger than last year, then the BOS will have failed. A tax increase will follow.
If their overall budget number decreases, then the BOS will have succeeded. They might accomplish that by cutting expenses. They might also accomplish that by extending their timelines: saving for purchases over a greater number of years. (I see, it would be almost as if you devised some sort of plan that took some account of our ability to pay).
(Have you heard of the experiment in which the ability of children to defer gratification is tested? They are told they can have one candy now but, if they can wait for a period of time, they can have two candies later? Most chose the one candy now. Of course they do).
If their overall budget number remains the same, the BOS will at least have held the line. Taxes will not rise further than their current unsustainable level. If they were to hold the line for a number of years, our incomes might begin to catch up to where we might take a breath.
(Watch for the $1.4 million taken in error last year to re-emerge in some fashion from wherever it has been hiding. It was represented then as a calculation error. That is to say, its taking was never authorized by your vote. The then BOS directed you to the abatement process. A tiny fraction of a fraction of those affected found some relief there. For the rest of you, I have bad news: you got snookered. The current BOS still has the money and has given no indication of returning it).
The BOS might either succeed, succeed partially (by holding the line), or fail utterly. Maybe we should start a town pool. Or, maybe it should be some sort of over-under kind of thing. (I am not much of a gambler). Let’s see, that would be $4,508,365 x 1.038 = $4,679,683. Who wants to bet “over”?
Town of Milton. (2018, October 1). BOS Meeting, October 1, 2018. Retrieved from youtu.be/jLkGCxJjXeg?t=640
Town of Milton. (2018). Tax Comparison Chart for 2017. Retrieved from www.miltonnh-us.com/uploads/index_714_406409677.pdf
Wikipedia. (2018, October 3). Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment