Sunday, May 4, 2014

Tell Council “Take Control Of Budget And Tax Rate”

Ken O’Brien

In February of last year The New York Times reported, “Since the official recovery began after the recession’s June 2009 trough, labor market weakness has been most pronounced in the public sector (and particularly among state and local employment): 5 million jobs have been added in the private sector (a disappointingly low number), while the public sector has shed 721,000 jobs.” 

In the course of this nationwide trend, Southbridge’s public employees have fared remarkably well. There have been no layoffs and wages have increased, albeit modestly. If only the same could be said for the population of the town for which they work.

Since 2007, just before the recession began, the town’s unemployment has substantially exceeded the statewide rate.

Simultaneously, the per capita income has stagnated and remains only little more than half of the state average.

However, over the same period the tax rate for the town has been on a steady upward climb.

In light of these observations, perhaps it should come as no surprise that Southbridge residents are taking seriously a proposal to change town government that, under other circumstances, would be considered a bad idea. Who can blame the people who have been footing the bills for coming to the conclusion that those they have elected are more concerned with looking out for town employees than taxpayers.

This has been compounded by the abysmal state of affairs exhibited by the school district with school choice costs the interim Town Manager has deemed a budget-buster coupled with outrageous costs for unemployment insurance as a result of terminations for non-budgetary reasons.

The reason that so many people feel that a town meeting would be a better option boils down most simply to dollars and cents. Despite the annual ritual of chest beating that occurs every December when the tax rate is set, the reality is that virtually nothing is done to control the budget in May, and this is what ultimately determines the tax rate.

It is time for the Council to exercise the kind of control that citizens feel a town meeting would. It is time for the taxpayers to stop being viewed as an ATM that will dispense whatever the town bureaucracy decides that it needs and have that amount rubber-stamped by the Town Council.

Mr. Reed has proposed a FY 2015 budget of $49,609,780. Included in that is a proposed increase in the tax rate of 4.52%. That amounts to a projected increase in revenues of $794,961 (including $150,000 in new growth).

The Council should approve a bottom line budget amount of $48,814,819 and direct the Town Manager to come back with a budget that conforms to that amount. This would eliminate the need for any increase in the current tax rate. It is time that the pain be shared by those on the taxpayer gravy train. Just as the town must live within the constraints of reduced state aid, it is time for the taxpayers to exercise the same kind of limits. What is the job of a manager if not to provide results with limited, not unlimited, resources?

It is time for the Council to stop playing with the trivialities of sign bylaws and graffiti bylaws and trash fines and roads to nowhere. It is time to buckle down to the real work of improving the town’s economy and encouraging local investment as well as investment from outside. And the first step is to stop bleeding the taxpayers who have gotten nothing more than what they have paid for in terms of public services. And, as a result of rising tax rates, declining property values.

If the town can’t find a way to live with a 1.6% reduction in its wish list rather than imposing another 4.52% increase on the taxpayers, then it may indeed be time to turn the budget back over to a town meeting.

Either way, after freezing the tax rate then we might turn our attention to controlling the skyrocketing water and sewer rates.


  1. I couldn't agree more. The town manager is hired for his supposed expertise, that's always been the rationale for paying the large salary. Let him use that expertise to find relief for the taxpayers rather than finding justification for a budget increase.

    When I was on the council, I asked the TM to come up with a budget that included no tax increase and a budget than was based on a 5% tax reduction. That request didn't get much support from the council and went nowhere with the TM. If the council presents a united front and draws this line in the sand, I'm sure the TM will find a way to comply.

    1. Compliance shouldn’t be an issue. The Charter says:
      4-2-3: 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;

  2. Freedom from Tax Slavery & A Right to an Adequate Living Standard.

  3. We should contact our counselors and demand that they do this.

  4. This is the best idea that you have had in a long time. I agree with Guy that people should bombard the nine zombies with demands that they do this. If not, then it will be clear that we have to go back to the old form of town government. I hope to that if that happens you will join in.

    1. If we were in Egypt, and we could execute the prior government leaders, then I would definitely change my mind.

    2. Unfortunately I'm convinced the same scoundrels will be elected and get the same lawyers as mouthpieces to justify every abuse that they perpetrate.

  5. Demand? Who are you to make demands? The people of Siuthbridge are obviously very happy with how we accomplish the running of government, because there are only a half dozen malcontents that up at the podium complaining.

    If you don't like it, take out inspects and do something about it, or try to find another community with the high quality town services offered here at the reasonable cost pf real estate enjoyed by this community.

    You don't think taxes are going up elsewhere?

    We have loyal town employees that are hard workers and give us the shirt of their backs. Maybe if you can't afford your home you can work two jobs like other people to make ends meet? Something we value in this town is loyalty. If you are not going to be loyal and need to spew out your opinions, may I suggest you take either end of 131 or take 169 to somewhere that you'd be happier.

    Good riddance to the extended peanut gallery!

    1. Get a Life - You're an idiot!

    2. Olive, what you and Jioe Marino and his band of Leary men (no women) fail to realize is that most iof the people of Southbrudge are too stupid to vote on the important matters that come up before town government-there, I said it. If you don't like it sue me.

    3. Yes, there, you've said it - anonymously. Your arrogance is matched only by your cowardice.

  6. Stop Taxpayer AbuseMay 5, 2014 at 2:24 PM

    The real scoundrels in the wasting of our tax dollars ;are McCloughlin and the girls. At the current rate, Southbridge Public Schools will expend a half million dollars on unemployment fees to, in most cases,
    wrongfully terminated workers.

    They have asked for an additional 6.2% budget increase. Where do you think that is coming from?


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