The recent events at the Shirley Annual Town Meeting were very interesting. It is clear that the town is struggling to meet the demands of its operational budget, and that the selectmen made some difficult decisions to rein in the budget. I appreciate the consistency with which they made their cuts. However, it was surprising to see the flip-flop among many of the voters.
It always amazes me that the townspeople still have not gotten the message that there is simply not enough revenue to maintain the town operations. Having attended Shirley town meetings for nearly a decade, the finance committee has continued to send this message, and the townspeople simply are reluctant to respond. It is going to actually cost more money.
During the first night of the Annual Town Meeting, it seemed like the voters may have finally understood that we simply need more revenue, when they stood up for dipping into the town’s reserves to reverse the 20 percent across cuts to town employees’ salaries, many of which I support. Interestingly, this resulted in some of the most ardent critics of dipping into these reserve funds to suddenly recognize that more funds are needed. On the second night of the Annual Town Meeting, however, those same ardent critics were up to the same old tactics of making sure the schools (Ayer Shirley Regional School District and Nashoba Valley Technical High School) are still thought of as separate from the town and not serving or even undergirding the town.
It was disappointing that the amendments to increase the budget to the Ayer Shirley Regional School District and the Nashoba Valley Technical High School assessed values were not approved, but it actually does not matter. The bottom line is that the regional school districts assess the town an amount determined by the regional school committees, and it was irresponsible for the recommendation to be any lower than the assessed value, as it misrepresents the law. By law, the regional school district assessment to the town is simply a “yes” or “no” vote. In other words, the vote that occurred at the Annual Town Meeting for a lower budget amount for Ayer Shirley Regional School District and Nashoba Valley Technical High School is meaningless, and the townspeople will be called to meet again in five weeks (costing the town more money) to vote on the regional school district assessment. Hopefully, the townspeople will not be misled this time.
The hypocrisy at town meeting continues to astound me on a number of fronts. First, it is irresponsible to automatically create a situation in which the town must pay more money for another town meeting. Second, with the exception of Selectman Prescott, not one person mentioned an override, which the town so clearly needs. In fact, the selectmn presented a list of the operating budgets of towns by population and the others were by far larger (as much as $10 million). The town that the selectman said we were comparable to, Ashburnham, strikes me as a less than lofty aspiration.
Finally, do you want to know how to raise revenue? Fund and demonstrate support for the schools. This results in raised home values and more tax revenues. Yes, more money.
Dr. Susan Bowles Therriault
Ayer Shirley Regional School District