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Let us decide

Following the recent joint School Committee/ Select Board/ Finance Committee meeting I spoke with the chair of the selectboard about an information request that I am certain can be satisfied (as was he). I also know it will help our town's residents make informed decisions about our annual budget. I asked to be provided with a complete list of programs/services provided by the town. The shape of this list is not important. It would probably be easiest to simply provide a list of programs/services by department.

During my time on the school committee we have made major strides in the area of transparency, strides that the non-school departments should emulate. Making this very basic information accessible to the public in a user-friendly format will be an important step in that direction.

At this joint meeting we learned from a selectboard member that "every service provided by the town is essential." Again, it is important to note that the claim was not that "most" services are essential, or that all services are "important," both of which are reasonable enough, but rather that all are essential. It seems to me that the town's legislature (town meeting) and voters ought to have the information necessary to evaluate this bold claim.

I am sure that the residents who have made a cottage industry of questioning every penny expended by the schools, would be eager to apply equal scrutiny to the non-school town expenses. A simple list of services (even without costs attached) would help move a comprehensive townwide budget debate forward by allowing citizens to make their own assessments regarding services they deem essential.

As an elected official I believe it is my obligation to put forward what I see as our town's priorities. Though politically difficult, I believe public leadership requires that I tell voters what services I consider essential and what services I consider non-essential, especially when our town's resources are stretched thin. Obviously my list of priorities will not match everyone else's. Of course, that's the point.

Residents should have the opportunity to hear competing visions of town service priorities to assist them in their governing role. This type of leadership isn't necessarily pretty or pleasant, but it is necessary for a community to make truly deliberative democratic decisions about its resources. The town manager is properly concerned about balancing the budget on the backs of small departments in town. The school committee is also properly concerned about balancing the budget on the backs of our smallest residents, our kids.

Our new charter has mandated greater consolidation of administration between the school and the non-school departments. While this has and is continuing to be difficult and sometimes controversial, the idea of thinking of our town as a whole rather than two sides, is meritorious, especially when it comes to allocating scarce resources. When an entire community determines the resources of each department, then each department must be thoroughly scrutinized by the entire community.

Jerold Duquette

Longmeadow