With a third opportunity coming Tuesday to decide on the city and school budgets, Barre voters have much to consider.
And the stakes are only getting higher.
Those citizens who vote based on how overall budgets affect their tax rates should have less to gripe about. The city staff’s effort to make revenue and expense adjustments produced a negligible increase to the tax rate on the $11.2 million spending request.
But some “no” voters have continued with their constant drumbeat that the city budget is too high, as are their taxes.
On the school side, the school board is once again sticking with a figure that was defeated two other times, stating the $12.6 million budget is exactly what the city needs moving forward. A small, vocal group of parents has agreed with the board, rejecting a mandate from the electorate to come back with a lower figure. Schools, these few proponents say, are investments in the community’s future and are deserving of the community’s support. Their push has taken the form of signs and social media campaigns they hope will bring out more parents and like-minded citizens to the Barre Auditorium between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday.
But since the first and second votes, certain factors have been added to the fiscal mix, further hardening positions citywide.
First, Mayor Thomas Lauzon, in what was first believed to be a fit of frustration, accused a handful of the budget’s opponents of being “crabby, bitchy” people. That characterization, directed at a minority, has some cost-conscious constituents wondering whether Lauzon is directing his comments at them.
The sentiment, which the mayor has repeated at recent meetings, is not a rational response. He has taken the defeats personally and needs to respect the voters’ decision, regardless of how frustrating that outcome might be. While he can do what he can to control the city’s path, he cannot — and should not — believe he has any sway over the reasons people decide to vote as they do.
To their credit, the city staff and the City Council listened to voters and made needed adjustments, which was really what those voters were asking for. Despite Lauzon’s inappropriate reaction, the city budget is deserving of the voters’ support Tuesday. It is a reasoned, thoughtful response.
The school budget, on the other hand, is a snub that should be voted down again. It ignores the mandate, and attempts for meaningful discussion or a hard look were passed over time and again.
Two school board members, including Chairman Lucas Herring, also sit on the City Council. The other is Anita Chadderton. Both Herring and Chadderton voted not to support this latest municipal budget; however, neither of them lifted a finger to make a change to the controversial school budget, which suffered defeats of similar margins. The school board continues to ignore the voters and seems to suggest it will not budge until it gets the budget it likes.
But time is up.
This is the board’s best shot at getting a budget passed, if it wants to avoid limping into the next fiscal year trying to get one approved while under a state mandate to spend no more than 87 percent of last year’s budget.
That is exactly what this gamble has come down to, and it is hard to reason why such a foolhardy, all-or-nothing approach was more desirable than trying to make concessions in a $12.6 million budget.
The answer is with the voters again. Turnout the last two times has been average to below average. Tuesday, the electorate of Barre City needs to make itself heard on both budgets. Regardless of petty remarks, high emotions and veiled claims of loyalty to one bloc over another, Barre needs to make some hard decisions.
But it also needs to learn some lessons.
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