Letter: Forget the override — it's time to right the ship

Posted 10/16/23

I was disappointed at the outcome of the override and am not surprised at the severe challenges the town is facing as a result. The town and schools seem to be in denial that the defeat of the …

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Letter: Forget the override — it's time to right the ship

Posted

I was disappointed at the outcome of the override and am not surprised at the severe challenges the town is facing as a result. The town and schools seem to be in denial that the defeat of the override requires difficult and unpleasant decisions. Rightly or wrongly, those who voted have spoken — they said they would accept a reduction in services rather than an increase in taxes. 

After watching the recent Westport Finance Committee meeting, I did not see a sense of urgency in answering the question of what services should be cut. It is not a matter of doing the same thing with one person instead of three. It is a matter of eliminating services that are not mandated by law or contract. With contract negotiations coming up with teachers, police, fire, and highway, I suspect the fiscal situation is far worse than our elected leaders are willing to admit and will require even more service reductions. I do applaud the chair for convening the meeting of stakeholders to address the issue, but I was disappointed at the result of the meeting.

I have served on a state board overseeing fiscally distressed municipalities in Connecticut. The expense pressures facing Westport are no different than elsewhere. However, in Massachusetts Proposition 2 1/2 limits the town’s ability to address them. There are no magic bullets. What has helped those towns is a requirement to submit a five-year projection of income and expenses. If there is a shortfall, the town must present a plan to close the gap. While preparation of a five-year projection has been suggested, the plan was to project needs without regard to available revenue. That process avoids the major question of how those needs will be funded. After the meeting it was unclear who would gather the data and by when. More troubling was the lack of agreement as to who should make recommendations for which services should be reduced or cut.

I suggest the town hold a public forum in late February to hear from taxpayers what services should be cut this year and over the next few years. That means the town and schools need to prepare options for what needs to be cut to match anticipated revenues and they need to do so soon.

I am sympathetic to our elected leaders’ plight. I know they didn’t sign up for making these unpleasant decisions that they hoped to avoid by an override.

That said, we must get beyond the hand-wringing and address the situation promptly. Following the same budgetary process as before ignores the question of how to deal with the structural deficit without the benefit of an override.

Robert White

Westport

 

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