By S.D. Plissken | January 4, 2019
Selectman Lucier dug in his heels again over a fine point of wording at the Board of Selectman’s (BOS) Meeting of December 17, 2018. (This is a bit dated at this point, but it has still some points of interest).
Selectman Lucier objected strongly to the boilerplate that concludes many warrant articles, notably the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) variety. The conventional obfuscation states that
This sum to come from the fund balance and no amount to be raised from taxation.
And well might he object. Note that there aren’t any actual verbs in this word salad. They have omitted the verb “is.” And there is no actor spending or taking the money from the fund balance, it just “comes” of its own accord. They call this the “passive voice.” A prominent politician formerly favored the passive voice: it is the evasive difference between “mistakes were made”and “I made a mistake.” It is meant to obscure the truth. These are well-crafted “weasel words.”
But the part that stuck in Selectman Lucier’s craw was his sudden realization that the fund balance is tax money too. It is just last year’s tax money. “No amount to be raised from taxation” because it was already raised from prior taxation, not spent, and never returned to its rightful owners. (“Soylent Green is made out of people!”).
Selectman Lucier: Before we start the CIP [warrant articles], can I make a statement?
Chairman Thibeault: Yep.
Lucier: Just about every one of these has one line in it, and if this line stays in it, I will not vote for any of these CIPs. And that line is “This sum is to come from the fund balance and no amount to be raised from taxation.” And I want that line … I totally disagree with it, that’s one of the reasons I ran for Selectman. It is taxation, the money is the taxpayers’ money. So, it is being raised from taxation. I will not approve any of the CIP Warrant Articles with that line in it. So, either it’s … that line is removed from all of the Warrant Articles …
Thibeault. Well, the intent is to say …
Lucier: I know what the intent is, but it’s still … it comes … it still comes from taxation. The taxation … the taxpayers paid for that money. That money came from the taxpayers. It’s not coming directly out of taxation, I get that part. The bottom line is that it came from taxation. People paid their taxes, that’s where that money came from.
Thibeault: I don’t disagree.
Lucier: I will not support … if you want to go down through them and … I will not support one article with that wording in it.
Thibeault: So, that kind of defeats … that’s the whole intent …
Lucier: Well, you don’t have to put that line in there.
At this point, an audience member – not me and not known to me – whispered sotto voce an actual out-of-the-box solution:
Audience Member: Just stop lying.
Few even heard it. I found it as difficult to suppress a guffaw, as he had evidently found it impossible to muzzle the truth. He stated an a priori truth: local government should have less lying in preference to more lying. (Discuss).
Selectman Lucier was on fire with this one. Even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut.
The blather that followed was tedious at best. Just the same old same old. The out-of-the-box thinkers on the board boldly questioned whether it would be quite legal to proceed further with this novel idea of just-not-lying.
They thought it might be wise to consult the Town lawyer in this whole matter of just-not-lying, as well as soliciting the insights of other out-of-the-box advisors. Sort of like asking your barber if you need a haircut. Should we recognize the Chief of Police? And our Department of Revenue Administration (DRA) masters might have something to say about this whole just-not-lying thing. We could consult the oracle RSAs. Maybe ask other towns if they are still lying.
Or, they could just stop lying. Too funny. Rest assured: some degree of lying will feature in this year’s warrant articles.
Some of you may recall the BOS meeting of November 5. A tag team of Chairman Thibeault and this very same Selectman Lucier announced, with evident pleasure, that $500,000 would be taken from this very same fund balance in order to reduce this year’s tax rate. (Just the rate, mind you, the budget amount would increase, per usual).
Selectman Lucier: I’m going to make a motion that we take $500,000 from the fund balance towards the tax rate … and you want to set the new taxes.
Chairman Thibeault: And that will bring the tax rate to $25.48.
Obviously, Selectman Lucier did not see then the great big nut over which he would stumble in December.
And it is a tough nut. That fund balance – from which the BOS took $500,000 – is the very same fund balance that would trigger his December language qualms. The BOS arranged for a marginally decreased tax rate (41¢) to cover a vastly increased budget – presto! – through the mechanism of shoveling other taxpayer funds into the deficit. Yes, the $500,000 came from last year’s taxation. You know, the year with the stupefying revaluation. Not exactly a loaves and fishes miracle was it?
Unfortunately, Selectman Lucier did not feel his just-stop-lying urge prior to uttering November’s big $500,000 lie. He had his revelation – his road to Damascus moment – while poring over similarly lying boilerplate in CIP warrant articles in December.
Let us see if we can help him find some other tasty nuts. Why was there such a huge fund balance in the first place? The Town overcharged each taxpayer an average of at least $185 last year. Some more and some less. (Do the math: $500,000 / 2700 = $185.19). Just stop lying.
Might this perennial over-taxation be intentional, a sort of rolling overage, so as to have always a fund balance from which to “top off” CIP funds? If so, then the CIP program demonstrably does not prevent tax hikes and spikes, it guarantees them. (At the end of the last administration, the Town revealed that it had at least twenty-nine bank accounts). Just stop lying.
The BOS spoke openly of leaving $1 in one or more of those voter-approved accounts. The accounts’ purposes have been fulfilled, and the accounts should be closed, but the presence of a solitary $1 allows them to be kept on life support indefinitely. Through this trick, the BOS need not seek voter authorization again in the future. (Pledge allegiance at the start of each meeting, but subvert democracy immediately thereafter). Just stop lying.
Proposed budget increases on the ballot are engineered to look smaller than default budgets. Heads they win, tails you lose. More sleight of hand. Just stop lying.
One could go on and on. Keep looking, Selectman Lucier, you might find another nut or two. They’re all around you.
O’Brien, Mollie. (2014). Looking for Trouble. [2nd Verse: The first time you shade the truth]. Retrieved from www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGXK0doxsp8
Town of Milton. (2018, November 5). BOS Meeting, November 5, 2018. Retrieved from youtu.be/cUrFKYBXC4c?t=418
Town of Milton. (2018, December 17). BOS Meeting, December 17, 2018. Retrieved from youtu.be/SLBEx1a45pQ?t=7924