December 5th's Southbridge town council meeting illustrated the upside down nature of town government.
Councilors and citizens were informed that they had no choice regarding the property tax rate. Their only choice was whether there would be a single rate for all property owners or different rates for industrial, commercial and residential properties.
Now, whether you're a household or a business, the first thing you do when you prepare a budget is determine your income. Then you formulate a budget that fits within that income.
Not so for town government. First you establish your budget and later you set the income you will extort from the taxpayers.
The Town Charter provides in Section 4-2-3 that "The manager shall:
(d) prepare, assemble and present to the council the annual town operating and capital budgets, shall present said budgets to the council in a format acceptable to the council and cooperate with the council in all financial matters."
Given that the budgets must be “in a format acceptable to the council" I would propose the following addition to the town bylaws:
"4-102.5 The annual operating and capital budget submissions of the town manager to the town council shall include a projected impact upon the existing property tax rate given information available at the time of the vote on the budget. Any increase from the projections when the proposed tax rate is actually presented to the council shall trigger a mandate that the budget be amended to conform to the revenue assumptions presented when the budget was adopted unless the council suspends by a 2/3 vote said mandate."
This provision will restore sanity to the budgeting and taxing process where town officials must act like responsible adults rather than children expecting that Santa will fulfill their every wish.