Every year, against an ominous backdrop, the Town of Warren’s budget cycle quickly gathers lightning speed. The Town Council, keenly aware of the mounting economic problems and concerns, sits down in its chambers laboring to build a municipal budget in front of an audience of virtually no one. The second floor of the Town Hall should be full of sound and fury; instead the only voices we hear are our own. Alarmingly, the final budget simply slips through the fingers of our electorate at the annual Town Financial Meeting by default.
To hit our financial targets, drastic surgery was required of this year’s municipal budget, and the council members plunged our scalpels deeply into Warren’s operational budgets with no one to bear witness to the pain. The town is wounded by a loss of state aid and department heads wondered if our intention was to simply cut the budget or gut it all together. Improving deteriorating roads, crumbling sidewalks and leaky sewer lines while keeping costs down are the council’s main objectives. The choice to hold the school budget in check is decisive, albeit contentious, and remains the keystone to controlling the Town of Warren’s overall municipal budget in the future.
Distress is acute and widespread because of a sluggish economy. The council never denied our ambition and the fact that the municipal budget swelled since 2006. In fact, the Town of Warren stands proud of our efforts to present information openly and welcomes noisy criticism no matter how harsh. Firmly ensconced in the seat of leadership Warren’s representatives set out to paint a clear and honest portrait of economic status. Long known for his honest and forthright persona Mr. Gordon, the Town Manager, did the Town of Warren a great service by presenting the true numbers and facts that shape our decisions on an annual basis. The Town of Warren’s annual budget exists as a document prepared with great level of care and transparency. The breadth of information provided to the public during the budget process is incalculable. The council publishes every bit of financial information and debates every line item in a public forum. Despite pious protest to the contrary, the Town of Warren holds transparency in government as sacred.
The increase to the Town of Warren’s total government expenses since then includes an exhaustive list of line items. For example, the town has experienced a $177.000 jump in Employee Pension Costs, a $76,000 bump in Employee Benefits, an $81,000 hike in Property and Liability Insurance, a $198,000 spike in Debt Service, a $48,000 increase to Social Security, a $72,000 addition to Waste Water Treatment costs and that fact that we pay $75.000 more for Public Safety than we did then accounts for a ballooning municipal budget. Unfortunately, this comprises just a short list of items that cost more today than they a short while ago. The aforementioned increases muddled with a loss of in our investment earnings of approximately $100.000, a drying up of $144,000 once collected by the Town Clerk and the bitter loss of aid to the cities and towns form the state create a putrid financial cocktail.
The political and economic argument rests squarely on our community’s historic right to self-determination. It is neither healthy nor politically acceptable that so many individuals be at the mercy of six individuals from another town. The surging events have thrust the Town of Warren to take bold, persistent action in hopes of preserving our local autonomy. By imploring our state legislature to change the enabling legislation we can preserve our fundamental right to exist as a community. The council must hold the line given dire political and economic consequences that may emerge if it buries its head in the sand. To this measure the people of Warren must now consider the central idea pervading the council's struggle. It is the necessity, thrust upon us at this very moment, of proving that the Town of Warren should now even exist at all as a local government if we give up our sacred right to self-determination.
Editor's Note: This letter is in response to questions raised from a previous letter to the editor submitted by Stanley.