Sunday, December 8, 2013

Taxpayers Aren’t Santa

Note: At last week’s town council meeting the town manager noted that the tax rate was determined by the town budget which had already been settled upon last May. In what is becoming an annual ritual I thought it appropriate to reprint a post that The O’Zone first published on December 6th of 2011. If so inclined, you may wish to examine the comments that were made by certain readers at the time this article was first published or last year when it was repeated. 

__Taxpayers Aren’t Santa__

December 5th's [2011] 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.

I believe that it is time to institute a change that will correct this topsy-turvy situation.

I don't get it. I don't get it. I don't....
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.

Comments From 2012 Reprint




  1. I wrote this two years ago people! If there is a legal problem I haven't heard it yet. It's about time to fish or cut bait!!!

  2. Replies
    1. Ken, I still support this bylaw. Perhaps we could discuss organizing a way to get it on an agenda to discuss it in the context of a municipal meeting.

      I said I would support your bylaw, and I do. But when I said that, I didn't mean to imply I would singlehandedly take on the leading role in getting your legislation passed. As you know, I am not the Chair of the Council, nor am I Chair of any of its subcommittees. Throughout my term of service on the Council, we have had a by-law review committee constituted, and although I do not agree with this, the existing leadership has historically held the position that we should not discuss new bylaws until the review committee has concluded its process. (Which I don't agree with, but hey, I'm in the minority.)

      Individual Town Councilors, from what I have seen in my acknowledgeably limited experience, are really not encouraged to pursue a legislative agenda. We are steered through a song and dance of voting yes or no on the Town Manger's initiatives, and to put it charitably, out-of-the-box ideas are not particularly encouraged.

      I'm not saying it's not possible to pursue an independent legislative agenda; it's definitely an achievable goal. That being said, it can't happen singlehandedly on the back of one overburdened, overscheduled volunteer legislator. We need an organized group of people working together to drive change. This is why none of your initiatives go anywhere, Ken. You need to work collaboratively and play well with others in order to get things done.

      As I said, your idea is a good one, and worth pursuing. That being said, I can't do any of this alone. I like to tell people that politicians do occasionally do the right thing, but only when there is outside pressure driving them to do so. I would argue that this is true whether or not they are interested in progressive change. You need to work together with people to get things on the agenda and get the votes.

  3. It’s Kabuki Theater. After all the years he’s been on the council Vandal doesn’t get it? When he was there Butch said he thought it was a great idea. Did he ever do anything? Peloquin said she would support it. Has she done anything? They vote the budget in May and seven months later they pretend to be helpless. Either they are totally brain dead or they are lying sacks of sh-t. I think I know which it is.


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