Getting in the Spirit of the Season

By the time you read this, you’re probably hard at work on your holiday list. Gifts? Help for those less fortunate? Holiday dinners and New Year’s Eve parties? Maybe a brief vacation when the kids are out of school?
Those certainly are December thoughts, but there’s something else for your December to-do list.
Town and school district budgets.
Not as exciting as deciding what decorations to put up or what cookies to bake, but at least as important. And it’s something you can’t put off.
The 2014 elections will be here before we know it, and those pesky budgets need your input.
Citizens have the right – indeed, the duty – to tell their elected officials what they consider important for inclusion in the budget and what can be held out, considering the difficulty most people have these days in finding the money to pay their ever-increasing taxes.
All of our towns and school districts are debating budgets, whether it’s cost-of-living increases, new buildings, new services, or – rarely – new ways of doing things.
You’ve just gotten your tax bill. Are you satisfied with what it’s paying for? If you live in Sandown, the answer is probably no, and next year doesn’t look better.
We hear a lot about making sure employees are paid well and have strong benefit packages so they don’t move to better-paying jobs. But those better-paying jobs just aren’t around, even as we’re taxed for pay raises.
The Hampstead School Board is spending three meetings (so far) on the possibility of cutting a half-time physical education teacher, a suggestion first proposed last year and not acted upon then because of claims it would impact the schedule. There’s been a year to consider it since then. And this in a district that is proposing a warrant article for major construction at both Hampstead Central and Middle Schools, including “alternate” – read “extra” – renovations.
Is every school job vital, with an impact on education? Every town job? Could some jobs be combined or eliminated, just as happens in the public sector, without boosting pay? We haven’t heard much of that conversation.
It’s up to the residents to advocate for budgets that maintain the “needs” and cut the “wants.” Those better days haven’t arrived yet.
If you don’t let your elected officials know right now what you think, you’ll miss the opportunity. The default budget isn’t the answer to everything. Wouldn’t a more realistic budget proposal be better for all of us, rather than just keeping it below default?
Once again we encourage you to get involved and have your say now, when change remains possible.
December brings more than the sound of Santa’s reindeer. Democracy is calling. Make your voices heard. Or keep silent and just write the check.

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