Sunday, June 8, 2014

Important Positions Quietly Filled

With no fanfare or even just a basic announcement (other than updating the town website), Moderator Jim Pistrang made two appointments -- Stephen Braun and Bernie Kubiak -- to the all important Finance Committee, a sort of watchdog financial adviser to Town Meeting.

Former FinCom Chair Andy Steinberg resigned after winning a seat on the Select Board in the 3/25 election, and rookie member Sarah Swartz recently resigned for personal reasons.  Probably the bigger of the two losses since she had experience running a small business

Oddly, FinCom does not make recommendations concerning the viability of projects financed with Community Preservation Act money.

Which always seems to be used for funding controversial articles, like the recent $1.25 million in public money spent to keep 41 private units of housing at Rolling Green Apartments affordable. 

Yes, the FinCom recommendation was unanimously in favor of that warrant article.   With any CPA article, however, their deliberation is to simply confirm the purchase falls within the state guidelines for use of CPA money -- and not on the merits of the purchase itself.

And I'm quite sure more than a few Town Meeting members do not get the distinction.

Since the town attorney also goes over any use of CPA spending for legality issues, the Finance Committee duplication is a waste of time.

This becomes even more important as Town Meeting voted to place an increase in the CPA surcharge from current 1.5% to 3% on the November election ballot.

I shudder to think of the excesses we will see at future Town Meetings if that double down is enacted.  All of them unanimously approved by the Finance Committee.


Anonymous said...

There is a lot here in your latest post to think about.

I think that you have pointed out a possible unnoticed difference in the process: the Finance Committee's apparently singular arms-length approach to CPA spending. And, like so much of Town Meeting, who knows whether TM members understand the distinction between the FinCom's boiler-plate language about "appropriate use of CPA funds" and other expressions of support from that committee elsewhere in the budget? They appear to reflect two generically different forms of approval. Select Board is still available to look at the big picture with its recommendation.

Dare I say it on this blog? Reasonable people may disagree about whether the addition to the surcharge is a good thing. There is a state match which is maximized with the increased amount, money we would not otherwise get. Others may feel that this is yet another raising of the bar (or closing of the gate) setting property taxes on current and prospective homeowners still higher. There is a progressivity component to the surcharge that will need to be looked at before coming to that conclusion. Still others may feel that the separate pot of CPA money somehow skews the spending priorities in town.

But there has already been a confusing blurring of legislative intent embedded in TM's vote this spring, if anyone were actually aware of it. The article was sold by several speakers to TM as "let the people decide" by placing it on the ballot. The statute, however, requires a threshold approval by TM ON THE MERITS before the increase can go on the ballot. Many, if not TM members may have thought that they were simply passing the question to the voters (in the interest of democracy) to say "yea or nay" in November. No, we were endorsing (as the Town's elders) the tax increase.

Once again, there are no guarantees at any given moment that we all know what we are doing when voting in Town Meeting. But this is the system that Amherst voters on two recent occasions, by small majorities, said that they wanted.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

Sorry, proofreading error:

"Many, if not MOST TM members may have thought that they were simply passing the question to the voters....."

Always proofread before pushing Send.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

It's to be expected from a Town Meeting that's elected by a very small minority of the town's population. The fiefdom continues....