In 1845 Sir John Franklin, with two ships and 129 men, went in search of the fabled “Northwest Passage” between Baffin Bay and the Pacific Ocean. He and his men disappeared into the Canadian Arctic and were never seen again.
We know now that their ships became entrapped in the ice of the Canadian Arctic over a series of unusually cold winters. Researchers theorize that, apart from the appalling and deadly Arctic conditions, the expedition’s food and water supplies were contaminated with poisonous lead solder. That would have both sickened them and impaired their cognitive function. Lord Franklin died. Part of the crew descended into cannibalism.
Survivors tried to escape overland. They loaded a heavy ship’s boat with a lot of useless paraphernalia, including a writing desk, silk handkerchiefs, scented soap, sponges, slippers, hair combs, and many books. That seemed to them to be a good idea. It can only be supposed that these unfortunates were half-crazed due to lead poisoning. One by one they died while trying to drag this useless burden across the Canadian tundra towards settlements lying hundreds of frozen miles to their south.
The Milton Board of Selectmen (BOS) is seeking a budgetary passage through the economic recession triggered by the Covid-19 shutdown. What do they propose that we drag across this hostile environment to a sustainable place?
Most of the departmental presentations so far have led off with pay raises. Yes, we’ll need them, make sure that pay raises get stowed in the boat. That would be only prudential management. They are essential.
Put them under the writing desk, between the silk handkerchiefs, slippers, scented soap, and books.
There was to have been a Board of Selectmen (BOS) Workshop meeting this evening at 6:00 PM. The BOS would have heard the next budget proposals from the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the Recreation Department.
The meeting has been cancelled and the budget presentations rescheduled for the regular BOS meeting of Monday, August 17.
The Budget Committee sent previously a letter outlining its view that the overall budget should come in at $1,000 less than the Default Budget, as being the only way that an actual budget would ever actually be passed. Its chairman, Mr. Williams, read it out to the BOS at their last meeting.
The BOS heard previously budget proposals from the Milton Mills Free Public Library (MMFPL) and the Police Department. The MMFPL’s budget went over its 2% guidance. Chairman Rawson expressed his disappointment. It would not be impossible to arrange, but their overage would have to come out of some other department’s budget.
The DPW wants double this year, some $500,000, to make up for having their warrant item rejected last March. Again, this would not be impossible, provided their overage came from the budget of some other department or departments.
Some define Economics as the science of best allocating scarce resources. (Some call it the “Dismal Science”). Now the Town government has never felt the need to allocate our scarce dollars in any measured or scientific way. Well, maybe in the distant past, but not for a long time now. It has been more recently in the habit of taking with both hands, both in good times and in bad.
Even now, some in Town government wish to consult Town-hired lawyers to find some way to evade the Tax Cap, which is likely to cramp their style. The style to which they have become accustomed. They have tended to do what they like, as opposed to what we can afford. Does anyone suppose that taxpayers are likely to smile on additional legal expenses, to be added to their current burden, and incurred primarily to thwart their expressed will?
I would predict instead a revised tax cap, an “improved” one with a lower ceiling, maybe 1%.
Meanwhile, the School Board, who is also on a default budget, and whose salary increase warrant article got rejected some months ago, is not quite there with us either. It is to hold a deliberative session at the Nute High and Middle School cafeteria tomorrow, Tuesday, August 11, at 6:00 PM. Its sole object is to put their Collective Bargain Agreement (CBA) warrant article back on a September 8 ballot.
The negotiated increases are substantial. They have to make up time for having been rejected before. One supposes they intend to repeat this exercise until we get it “right.” Because “no,” means “ask me again”?
Is anyone pixilated enough to suppose that taxpayers will have more money during this economic lockdown than they did when they kept their hands in their pockets last March? Very unlikely.
Yes, yes, one might expect turnout to be lower in a primary then it would be at the regular election. Wait, you don’t think that was a part of their calculation, do you? To pack a smaller venue? No, that would be sort of cynical and manipulative.
Do you suppose they know how many taxpayers asked also for a School tax cap? As I understand it, their name is “legion,” and such a measure is even now being studied. But it could never pass, could it? Well, yes, it very well could, if the School Board takes no account of the taxpayers’ scarce resources.
Taken all in all, one might say that many of our Town officials are not quite there with us yet.
I obtained at a recent gathering a leaflet from the Right to Know NH organization, which I reproduce below for the benefit of our readers.
Right to Know NH
Right to Know NH is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving adherence to and strengthening the Right to Know Law (RSA 91-A).
What We Do
Assist citizens in exercising their right to obtain information from their government.
Provide resources on Right to Know with the goal of making government more open and accountable.
Help public officials on how they can provide their constituents with access to government meetings and records so they may be in compliance with both the letter and the spirit of the law.
Propose legislation to strengthen the Right to Know Law (RSA 91-A).
Advocate for or against proposed legislative changes by writing to legislators and testifying at legislative committee hearings.
Maintain an extensive website with up-to-date case law, how-to information, and Right-to-Know Law training links.
Educate citizens on their right to know their government.
Build cooperative associations with organizations which share an active and ongoing interest in government transparency.
Membership is free, knowledge is invaluable. We meet regularly in Concord and invite new members. For more details check our website. We also welcome organizations to ally with us so together we have a stronger voice promoting open government.
Part I, Article 8 of the New Hampshire Constitution
All power residing originally in, and being derived from, the people, all the magistrates and officers of government are their substitutes and agents, and at all times accountable to them. Government, therefore, should be open, accessible, accountable, and responsive. To that end, the public’s right of access to governmental proceedings and records shall not be unreasonably restricted.
RSA 91-A:1 Preamble
Openness in the conduct of public business is essential to a democratic society. The purpose of this chapter is to ensure both the greatest possible public access to the actions, discussions and records of all public bodies, and their accountability to the people.
Milton Board of Selectmen (BOS) chairwoman Erin Hutchings announced her resignation, effective July 7, during the Selectman Comments portion of the BOS meeting of Monday, June 15, 2020. She had sold her house and would be moving out of town.
On June 22, 2020, the Town posted a notice seeking applicants from which they might select a replacement.
At their quasi-Public meeting of July 6, 2020, the BOS opened a sealed envelope with the names and particulars of three applicants vying to be her replacement. They were Laurence D. “Larry” Brown, Claudine Burnham, and Humphrey S. Williams. (Mr. Brown and Mr. Williams were candidates for this office at the March election).
At their quasi-Public meeting of last night, Wednesday, July 8, 2020, the BOS went immediately into a 91-A:3 II (c) session.
(c) Matters which, if discussed in public, would likely affect adversely the reputation of any person, other than a member of the public body itself, unless such person requests an open meeting. This exemption shall extend to any application for assistance or tax abatement or waiver of a fee, fine, or other levy, if based on inability to pay or poverty of the applicant.
When they emerged from their secret session, they announced that they had selected Claudine Burnham to serve out the remainder of Erin Hutchings’ third year.
Ms. Burnham was for two years (2015-17) assistant recreation director for the Town of Milton, and has been for two years (2018-Present) a resident mentor at Shortridge Academy, on Governor’s Road in West Milton. Northeastern University conferred upon her in 1993 a B.S. degree, with a major in business administration.
We have seen that our newly-established Local Government Efficiency Task Force has begun its work with questions of how to find other revenue sources. That is to say, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) do not seem to feel that Milton has budget and spending problems, as such, but an income shortage instead.
They are wrong of course, as is their wont. A correspondent directed our attention to a recent article in the Concord Monitor regarding average Police budgets in New Hampshire.
According to this article, NH cities and towns spent in a range between $100 and $554 per capita for their Police services in 2019, with the average community spending $194 per capita. Milton, at $201 per capita, spent more than the average community.
Our neighboring city of Rochester reportedly spent $222 per capita, which was relatively low for a city, while our neighboring towns of Farmington, Middleton, and Wakefield spent $209, $188, and $161 respectively.
Milton taxpayers might well ask themselves whether our Police requirements and, therefore, our per capita Police expenses, align more closely with those of Rochester or those of Middleton and Wakefield. (Keeping in mind that our other neighbors in Lebanon, ME, have no police at all, relying instead on their County Sheriff).
Taxpayers might well ask these questions, as it would seem that our BOS have little interest in asking on our behalf.
The Local Government Efficiency Task Force announced that its inaugural quasi-public meeting will be held today at 6:00 PM.
Its published agenda prefixed its title with the adjective “Remote,” which is meant apparently to signify a “public” meeting under the Governor’s Covid-19 workaround of closed meetings, without any public comment at all, that are “public” only in the sense that they are broadcast to the public or that the public may listen by telephone. Presumably, it is not intended to signify a remote local meeting, which would be to pile on another oxymoron. (The original one having been “government efficiency” or “local government efficiency”).
This new “task force” was initially identified also as an “independent” committee, which it would not be, – even in government speak – if constituted as discussed previously. An actual independent committee would be one composed mostly – if not entirely – of members who are not Town officials or apparatchiks.
A “Joint” committee would be one whose members are drawn from several different bodies or authorities, such as from the Board of Selectmen and School Board. A “Select” or “Special” committee is one appointed for a defined and limited time period for a particular purpose only. This might be termed alternatively an “Ad Hoc” (Latin for “to this” or “for this” purpose) committee.
The time period put forward for this Local Government Efficiency Task Force to fulfill its purpose has been estimated at twelve to eighteen months, or even longer, i.e., well after the current budget process, well after the next election, and perhaps even after the next budgeting process. It is truly amazing how these things “work.”
It would seem that those seeking tax reductions as precipitate as the tax increases have been might have to look elsewhere.
The Task Force’s agenda has six main topics: [1)] Introductions and Statements of Individual Goals, 2) Discussion of Ideas and Approaches, 3) Revenue / Tax Base Growth and Diversification, [4)] Operational Efficiencies, [5)] Organization, and [6)] Other Business.
Introductions and Statements of Individual Goals. In which we meet the members.
Discussion of Ideas and Approaches. In which we might hear of their general approach and their initial thoughts. I had once a boss that explained that consultants mostly return and support what management asked them to find at the outset. And that lies in the questions being asked below.
Revenue / Tax Base Growth and Diversification.a) What grows the tax base? b) What kinds of impacts do different types of growth have on the community? c) What opportunities do we have to create revenue brainstorming session (additional Solar Panel Farm, leasing of town facilities, advertising revenue possibilities), d. Other Ideas and Suggestions.
The questions all suggest that the Town government hopes still to continue merrily along at current or even larger levels, but that someone else might be found to foot the ever-increasing bill.
The questions do suggest some dim awareness that regulatory restrictions have hampered growth and, consequently, tax revenues. In this, the task force seems to have identified already the well-known Kindergarten principle: don’t hit people and don’t take their stuff. Regrettably, they seem to have taken away the wrong lesson. They hope to find and take more stuff.
They do not seem to consider “growth” to be a concern of property owners, as such, but a “communal” one. One supposes that they might next to be speaking of taxes as an “investment.”
Operational Efficiencies.a) What ideas do you have that might increase efficiencies? [E.g.,] Energy Conservation, Cooperative purchasing with school, regionally, Are there opportunities to combine departments / functions?, Are there other opportunities to regionalize?
It is better late than never to eliminate duplication, but it has been inexplicable that it has taken so long. There is an organizational efficiency that taxpayers should consider. Why would one ever establish, depend, or expand upon an organization that spends first and considers organizational efficiencies last?
Organization. a) Election of Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary; b) Review of and proposed amendments to Task Force By-laws (you are a subcommittee of the Board of Selectmen, so these are samples – any by-laws ultimately would need approval by the Select Board); c) Do you want to put together subcommittees for the areas Identified Above?
Strictly speaking, a subcommittee of the BOS would be composed entirely of members of the parent committee, i.e. the Board of Selectmen.
Well, we shall see, will we not?
We always carry out by committee anything in which any one of us alone would be too reasonable to persist. – Frank Moore Colby
The Milton Board of Selectmen (BOS) find themselves in a tight place. Their government has simply grown too large, and, as a consequence, their budgets and the levels of taxation needed to fund them, have simply grown too large too.
One is reminded of a tale from A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh: “In Which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets into a Tight Place.” In the story, Pooh visits Rabbit’s burrow and, while there, greedily consumes Rabbit’s stock of honey (for which Pooh has a bottomless appetite). When it comes time to leave, the now larger Pooh gets stuck in Rabbit’s front door. He can neither be pushed through to the outside or pulled back into the inside. Not as he is now, anyway. They simply have to wait until Pooh loses the weight that he gained by eating all the honey. In the meantime, Rabbit tries to make the best of a bad situation by using Pooh’s back end for other purposes.
Now, Pooh – elsewhere described as being a “bear of very little brain” – eventually loses enough weight to escape this particular predicament.
Over their last few meetings, the BOS have been pondering where they have become stuck. Their overly large budgets having been roundly rejected by Milton’s voters, already rejected more often than not in recent years, and now two years in succession. (To be fair, these particular selectmen are responsible only for the most recent in a long train of abuses).
These selectmen began their year well enough by acknowledging their budget problem – a first step in a recovery – and proposing freezes until they could extricate themselves. However, they have evidently not yet reached bottom, as they posted job openings the very next day, and voted yet another in a subsequent meeting. (Vice-Chairman Rawson was a rare dissenting vote on that one).
They are meanwhile seeking applicants to be the minority on a “Local Government Efficiency Task Force,” which is to seek the Lost Dutchman’s Mine of government efficiency. One of its several objectives is to find other sources of revenue. A cynic might suppose that little or no actual changes are proposed and that spending is to continue at current levels, simply through finding other people to pay for it.
The solar panel farm and a cell tower were cited as examples of other sources. As in mathematical proofs, some elements might be “necessary,” but are not in and of themselves “sufficient.” Such money as those examples added was spent long ago on increased government, rather than tax reduction. And there have been also less exciting instances of this sort put forward in the past – for example, the contentious landfill proposal of some years ago.
Space aliens from the eighth dimension might present themselves at the Emma Ramsey Center for a thorough probing. However, it is much more likely that any “other sources” of revenue will just come from the other pockets of the present victims. For example, transfer station fee changes, i.e., fee increases, have appeared on a recent agenda. (Some might remember that these fees did not exist at all just a few years ago).
Several bills were put forward at the State level in this most recent biennium, whereby some legislators sought to add back-door income taxes to our burden. They too sense that property taxation has reached already its outer limits, but are unwilling to curb their appetite. They are seeking instead to add other revenue sources rather than to push back from the table. It would have been, as the British have it, just the “thin end of the wedge.”
The Task Force is expected to take twelve to eighteen months, or longer, to reach its conclusion, if any there be. Its majority of Town officials might be expected to have a vested interest in continuing to feed the beast. How likely are they to discover any redundancies, even those right under their noses? That Milton has both an Assessor and a Contract Assessor can be seen at a glance, as well as its having both a Planning Board and a Contract Town Planner. The BOS is under no obligation to adopt its recommendations, if any there will be.
Meanwhile, the BOS will have gained twelve to eighteen months, or longer, in which they might proceed blithely along their “tried and true” rut. Let’s help them with their annual calculation: a now smaller annual percentage increase (thank God for the Tax Cap’s small blessing) multiplied by much too much government will yield a yet more expensive government. (Nobody there has heard of zero-based budgeting). Under ordinary circumstances, they might be able to kick the can down the road for a few more years, before arriving right back where they started.
But we live in extraordinary times. The “Black Swan” of the Coronavirus just punctured the carefully nurtured economic bubble. (If it had not been that, it would have been something else). Let us suppose optimistically that the whole economic lockdown ends right now, this very week. This year’s GDP, that faulty measure of the nation’s economic progress and wealth, would be smaller by the two-plus months of the lockdown. (And New Hampshire’s and Milton’s GDPs smaller along with it). Yes, of course it would, that much is obvious.
Unfortunately, the usual inanities are being deployed again at the national level. Congress voted and the President approved trillions of dollars in additional stimulus spending. They have done so four, or five, times now in quick succession, one loses count. Now, the Federal government does not actually have any trillions to spend in this manner. And we have just seen that the GDP – the national wealth, if you will – just got smaller, rather than larger.
You see, at the Federal level they have the advantage of possessing a magical money tree. They just borrow the money from the future, i.e., expand the money supply, which is the very dictionary definition of inflation. This has the effect of creating greater numbers of devalued dollars. This reduction in dollar value extends to those in your pocket, as well as those in your bank account, those in your retirement savings, and, for those poor souls on a fixed income, those in their pensions or annuities.
Milton’s last two DRA “flash” valuation increases of recent years have been based upon the wildly-inflated prices of the last two housing bubbles. New Hampshire’s tax model assumes a rough correlation between property valuations and ability to pay. That assumption no longer tracks in these recent Federally-induced housing bubbles. (One cannot slice off a piece of a fantasy valuation and use it to pay taxes). It would require sensible State and Town governments – rather than bears of very little brain – to recognize this disparity and to restrain their spending. The large and increasing gulf between fantasy valuations and the reality paychecks might be compared with our large and increasing dissatisfaction with these methods.
In the longer term, one might expect that housing valuations will tend to fall, given that we have a smaller GDP, a probable recession, unemployment approaching already 20%, and some businesses likely shuttered forever. Does anyone suppose the State DRA will be demanding any “flash” valuation decreases? Of course not, they will want to overtax us through one more cycle.
Our Town government, which was already unsustainable, might try desperately to preserve its bubble size. It might raise tax rates to compensate for declining values. (It did this last time around). It might raise its existing fees, fines, and taxes, across the spectrum, and even create new ones. (Ask any refugee from Massachusetts). It might punish us for not approving their budgets.
Or they might more reasonably scale back our Town government. They might reduce the amount of its annual “fund balance” exaction, which they could do immediately, and extend the timelines of their so-called “plans.”
In Homer Simpson one encounters a more contemporary fictional character, but one with a cognitive capacity similar to Winnie the Pooh. In one episode, a soft drink vending machine accepts his money, but does not dispense his can of soda. He reaches up inside the machine to pull it out, but cannot. He grasps the can, but his hand becomes “stuck.” Various people try to extricate him from the machine. They arrive finally (and improbably) at a solution of just sawing off his hand. Just before they take that drastic step, one technician poses a final question: “Homer, are you just holding on to the can?” In the next scene we find him rubbing his arm while departing amidst howls of laughter.
Watching our wise overlords struggle to retain their current budget levels, one might well ask them the same question: “Selectmen, are you just holding on to the can?”
An acquaintance of a philosophical bent brought up in a discussion recently Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs.” Psychologist Abraham Maslow put forward his theory of a hierarchy of needs in a 1943 paper and, more fully, in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality.
In Maslow’s theory, usually depicted as a pyramid, with the most essential needs grouped as a foundation at the bottom, and the other categories of needs stacked each upon the other in a possible progression upwards. At the bottom, would be one’s Physiological needs, with Safety needs stacked upon that foundation (when Physiological needs have been satisfied), and then in succession Love/Belonging, Esteem, and finally Self-Actualization at the top.
At the lowest level of Physiological needs there are basic health and homeostasis, because it is difficult to live with a massive physical trauma or adverse conditions of massively extreme heat, cold, pressure, lack of oxygen, etc. Under those conditions, one’s higher needs and aspirations are not even remotely a consideration.
Assuming one is not going to die instantly, the next need to be satisfied would be water. People cannot live more than a few days without water, perhaps even less than that, depending upon conditions. Then would come food. People cannot live more than a couple of weeks without food, perhaps even less. Sleep is vital too. Anyone who has worked several days and nights with little or no sleep will have learned how essential sleep is to our function. Shelter is next in the Physiological sequence.
Assuming that one’s Physiological needs may be satisfied, one can continue to exist. At that point, one might pursue higher needs from the next level above: Safety or Security needs of different types. This category includes Physical safety, Emotional security, Financial security, and longer-term Health and Well-Being, etc.
We should note that this second category of Safety or Security is less essential as a whole than the basic foundation one of Physiological needs. And the third category is less essential than the second and so on.
Under Maslow’s schema, none of Milton’s Town government services – not a single one, not even its Police and Fire departments – should or would take precedence over the Physiological needs, including the need for shelter, i.e., the need to retain one’s home.
This is why a speaker – I think it was at a Candidates’ Night several years ago – warned correctly that the Town’s rate of tax increases had begun to constitute an “existential threat.” (Their warning fell on deaf ears). Our friends and neighbors dislike hearing anecdotes of neighbors struggling here before being forced to leave town for places with better “price points.” (“Price point” being a term more appropriate for a voluntary transaction that might be refused, and misapplied when speaking of forcible taxation).
This is why the “sledge hammer” Tax Cap passed so readily: taxpayers sought to staunch the bleeding.
Chairwoman Hutchings in her disquisition took Police and Fire positions and salaries “off the table.” Despite employee salaries, benefits, COLA [!!!], and pensions making up the largest portion of the Town budget.
She was utterly wrong, of course. Nothing that the Town does is more important, in the Maslovian sense discussed above, than the ability of homeowners to remain in their “shelters.” Therefore, it necessarily follows everything the Town spends is most definitely on the table. If all Town expenses are not on her table, then they might appear instead on the table of petitioners and voting taxpayers.
Not mentioned in her discussion was disgorging “fund balance” monies as tax relief. After all, the monies were ostensibly collected for CIP items that were not passed at the ballot. Nor was there any mention of reducing the excessive “fund balance” percentages that drive them each and every year. Nor was any mention made of extending the so-called CIP timelines in order to “flatten the curve.”
Nobody undertook to cease mining zombie job slots – some vacant for years now – to cover extra-budgetary raises.
Nor was there any mention of bundling boating expenses (repair of ramp, costs of the Police navy, costs of collecting the fees, boat inspections, European Naiad remediation, etc.), under a self-sustaining boat launch fee, rather than a general tax burden.
And let us not even mention the “elephant in the room”: the Milton School District, whose much larger budget – double? triple? – was also rejected. They need to get themselves under control also.
The plan is evidently to form a “Task Force,” most likely composed of people that participated in making the problem, to see if there even is a problem. (This is not Leyte Gulf and you are not Taffy 3). “We investigated ourselves and found we did nothing wrong.”
The Town government is in a deep hole, but not solely a budgetary one. It has serious credibility and trust issues too. In December 2017 the BOS “mistakenly” over-taxed us by an amount which was then estimated at $1.4 million. The BOS has never explained either the nature or size of its error.
At that time, there should have been immediate resignations all around. Some assumed then that the disgraced board remained in place only for the opportunity to “make things right.” Instead, they said nothing and when “surprised” by post-budget employee benefit cost increases, the BOS claimed the people’s money as their own to cover that and other budgetary increases.
Yes, it was an outright theft, a legal theft (per Mr. Brown), but a theft nevertheless. For many that was the “last straw.”
Disgorge the fund balance overages. Make sure they can never again rise so high. Damn the DRA and their “recommendations.” Absolutely everything is “on the table.” Retention of homes comes before any and all Town notions in the taxpayers’ hierarchy of needs. Way before, it is not even close.
Commenters have occasionally questioned exactly why Milton’s Board of Selectmen have held so very many closed-door 91A sessions. A number of them, including even several legislators, have suggested that there is something amiss there.
Chairwoman Hutchings’ disquisition of Monday, April 6, 2020, as well as the other selectmen’s remarks that followed, revealed finally why at least some of those secret sessions were “necessary.”
The BOS has been using money from unfilled positions, which positions were authorized at the ballot – at certain amounts – to hand out raises and benefit increases, whose increased budget amounts were not authorized at the ballot. They “mine” the unauthorized amounts from the unfilled positions.
To cite the example given by Selectman Rawson, they have five positions at some rate of pay. Some one of the five leaves to follow another opportunity, perhaps a better-paying one. The selectmen are then able to “mine” that unfilled position’s authorized salary and benefit amounts to hand out unauthorized increases – in this example, increases of up to 20% – to the remaining four positions.
They won’t likely ever get “caught.” It will all be papered over when the voters approve the next budget, which will include the temporarily-unauthorized increased amounts. They can even fill the fifth position at that time and begin their “process” all over again.
Selectman Rawson: Well, when we initially gave the raises … I don’t know if these … I don’t know if Erin [Hutchings] and Matt [Morrill] were even … I know Matt wasn’t, but Erin … You might have been on the Board when we gave the DPW all those raises . were you here or not?
Chairwoman Hutchings: Uh-hum.
Rawson: Well, just out of transparency, the Public Works [DPW] gave some concessions, and that was one man. So, it’s not like … I just want to make it clear that it’s not like we were just giving out these huge raises – well, not huge, but raises at least – to keep people, good people here in Milton. You know, they gave a concession, and that was to lose a body, and, you know, when you don’t have a lot of bodies and you lose a body, you know, it’s just people have to work a little harder and, if I was an employee down there and I was going to get a raise, and I had to work a little harder, I would be on board. So, that is what happened with that. I just want to make that clear, because there was some concessions already from DPW. So, like on some of the large-ticket items … so, what are some of the large-ticket items that were being proposed this year? Do you know what some of those ticket items were, or were going to be?
Creveling: Most of ones that I am aware of were the phone systems in Town hall, but those were covered by the [State-provided] Unanticipated Revenue.
The “good people” with whom they should be concerned primarily are the taxpaying voters. What happens if those hard-pressed taxpaying voters – they are a nuisance, aren’t they? – do not approve your increased proposed budget, with its poison pill of already-granted raises? Well, the BOS can just continue to mine the vacant position for another year and catch up later. (Not to pick on the DPW. There is no reason whatsoever to think that this peculiar workaround is limited to the DPW budget and TO&E).
But what happens if the voters chose the default budget two times running? Let us imagine some alternate universe in which the voters become unhappy with the rate at which their taxes have increased. Well, now the BOS would have a problem – one that they might actually care about – as opposed to the apparently negligible problem of increasing taxes yet again. They discover suddenly that they have been skating on rather thin ice.
The Town can evidently function without these positions, except as yet another slush fund to be tapped. The ostensible reason for all of this sleight-of-hand was a bidding war in a competitive job market. Well, the bottom just dropped out of that. Pessimists are saying it will be a long time coming back, if ever it fully does.
Might it be that these unfilled positions, vacant for several years now and apparently preserved only to pay raises that lack proper budget authorization, should be removed finally from the Town table of organization?
A Milton official got up on his hind legs this past year to misinform the Board of Selectmen (BOS) that they have “The Power” to “prudentially manage” the affairs of the town, and that their use of that Power is unquestionable.
Of course, he was fundamentally wrong, and wrong in several ways. The “American system” is based upon the Lockean principle that sovereignty resides in the people, who lend it only to a government of their choosing, and that they do so for a very few limited purposes. Should that government fail, or otherwise abuse its people, such that it loses its their support, it does not just go merrily along unquestioned. Sovereignty reverts instead to those that lent it.
Both the Federal and New Hampshire constitutions acknowledge this. The New Hampshire one is actually clearer and firmer than the U.S. Constitution in setting forth its terms. Parenthetically, I witnessed this last year – with some displeasure – a New Hampshire judge override a witness who cited their rights as set forth in the NH Constitution. The judge translated for the record the witness’ words – and their meaning – into terms of the less protective US Constitution. There was a presiding “NH” judge denying the very constitution that authorized his actions. That judge needs to be both questioned and perhaps recalled. (Time to elect judges?).
Many have asserted, with some underlying logic, that groups of people can not assert aggregate rights and powers that they do not possess themselves as individuals.
Consider, if you will, the well-known “How Many Men?” progression, or reductio ad absurdum, that illustrates their point.
Is it a theft if I take my neighbor’s twelve-pack of toilet paper (“ripped from the headlines!”) – or any other resource belonging to them – at gunpoint?
Is it a theft if five or six of us take my neighbor’s resources at gunpoint?
Is it a theft if twenty or a hundred of us agree together – let us call it an election – to take my neighbor’s resources at gunpoint, and then do so?
Is it a theft if the group votes to take my neighbor’s resources at gunpoint, but allows that neighbor to vote too?
Is it a theft if the group, now including the neighbor, votes to take the neighbor’s resources at gunpoint, but gives some of them to some other, less fortunate neighbors?
And so on. Obviously, Step One is an outright theft, but at which step did it cease to be so? How did a group of people somehow acquire the “right” to commit thefts that would be crimes if perpetrated by them individually? Those making this argument – we might think of them as logical purists – claim that this progression to superhuman rights is just “magical thinking.” Groups do not have and can never acquire any aggregate rights above those possessed by them as individuals, and that their actions remain forcible thefts throughout the progression.
George Washington is credited with having observed honestly (he could not tell a lie) that “Government is force; like fire it is a dangerous servant – and a fearful master.” Effectually, he acknowledged the underlying force employed, warned against it, and went on to use it nevertheless.
If we were to be less pure than the purists, and join George in putting aside moral questions of forcible theft and try to go on nevertheless, what are the limits?
Obviously, the cleanest course of action would be achieving consensus – everyone agreeing unanimously on what needs to be done or spent. No force at all would be required if a consensus could be achieved.
From there, the lesser next option would be gaining some sort of overwhelming majority. However, it must be acknowledged that such a majority would be forcing its will upon a minority. (“Two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch”).
The constitutions mentioned above seek to limit the types of things that might be forced upon an unwilling minority, even forbidding some altogether. (“Shall make no law” and “Shall not be infringed”). Of course, governments try always to redefine or extend their limits beyond those paper walls. (It remains a well-known legal principle that unconstitutional laws are not laws at all).
Bringing this back down to our particular patch of earth, Milton officials should tread quite lightly indeed. None of them have received anything like an overwhelming majority. (Not entirely their fault). Most hold their offices through bare majorities of a minority of the electorate. Some hold their offices through having received minorities of that minority. And some have been appointed to their positions by others whose own mandates are not particularly strong. These “mandates,” if we may call them that, should not be overstated or extended very far at all.
Given that all of that is true, one might expect them to restrict themselves to managing a minimal government at the lowest possible cost. Grand views of “prudentially managing” the property and lives of others should be entirely out of the question. (“Any government powerful enough to give you everything you want will be powerful enough to take from you everything you have”).
For some years now, Milton officials have gone inexplicably in quite the other direction. They have been voting unanimously for measures and expenses that do not enjoy anything like unanimous support from those they purport to represent, quite the contrary in fact. They just last week discovered their error. (Yes, a bit slow in the uptake). Should they fail to set a truer course going forward, one imagines they might find themselves facing default budgets for years to come.
A reasonable course correction would have them disgorging most of their hoarded “fund balance” as tax reductions. Most of the proposals for which they took it got rejected anyway. After that, they should make certain that it never again resembles a dragon’s hoard, by adjusting the percentage through which it is forcibly taken downwards, way downwards.
Likely, that would require extending their CIP acquisition timelines much further out. (Assuming that a CIP plan that needs a dragon’s hoard to sustain it is not simply dismantled altogether, which is a distinct possibility).
It would require some planning on their part, some actual planning that takes into account what the least among us can afford. Otherwise, it would just be theft.