Small Town Democracy 2014

Small town democracy is expressing itself in my small town as our School Meeting and Town Meeting deliberative sessions take place over the next two nights.

Voters and other interested parties will convene tonight and tomorrow night at our high school auditorium to go over, debate, and maybe amend the warrant articles that make up the budgetary items and other issues of import that will affect our town and its schools over the next fiscal year. These issues will also directly affect our property tax rate as what we spend defines what we pay.

The actual vote to accept or decline the various warrant articles won’t take place until March, giving voters a chance to review and further debate the merits of each warrant article.

Some articles are ‘no-brainers’, meaning they are usually housekeeping items to correct errors made in previous town meetings, to clarify vague or meaningless definitions in things like zoning ordinances, or an annual money allocation to various capital reserve funds that are used to purchase new vehicles and equipment for various town departments or to pay for road or bridge improvements and repairs, just to name a few.

Others are serious and require a lot of thought, particularly those tied directly into the school or town operating budgets, or large capital expenditures for things like renovation or new construction of municipal facilities that require bonds to finance. An example of such an expenditure is the request for funds to renovate and expand our town’s police station, something that has been badly needed for years. The cost will be over $1 million, a very large chunk of change to a town our size. To say that it will be hotly debated is an understatement.

One thing that makes this small bit of American democracy so important to us? It directly affects everyone in our town. It also harkens back to something I and others have been saying for years about Town Meeting: If you can’t be bothered to vote then you have no right to complain.