The Annual Silly Season
And so, it begins a new, the annual town budget process. Each year budgets are proposed and presented to joint meetings of the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance. Each year, the Government Access Television channel covers these presentations, live and with rebroadcasts.
I attended the meeting this evening because I am on the Government Access Television commission and our proposed budget was being presented. As is typically the case, the GAT presentation went quickly with lots of congenial remarks. I stuck around for discussions about the Fire Department budget and various other budgets. There were discussions about the need for an updated Town Plan of Conversation and Development, of changes to the Grand List and the re-evaluation that will come in 2014. There was talk of building permits and new generators being installed in town. It all seemed very routine, almost like a New England version of Mayberry RFD.
Members of other commissions came and went as their budgets were presented. Perhaps many of the townsfolk were watching on TV, but no showed up at town hall if they weren't somehow involved with a department presenting.
Some people are pleased with this. To them, it means that the people of Woodbridge are satisfied with the way the town is being run, happy to leave the decisions in the hands of those that they've elected. Yet the municipal elections have small turnouts. Personally, I'd much rather see many more people showing up at these budget presentations and talking afterwards. I'd much rather see a great turnout in the municipal elections.
In the spring, the budget will be presented to the town as a whole. We will gather in the gym at the old Center School. GAT will again record and broadcast it. Towns people will get up and complain about how the budget "seemed to have been negotiated in secret". They will call for greater "Integrity, Transparency, Accountability", in spite of having not shown up at previous public meetings or spoken up in the past. They will speak about how the "sense of everyone working together for the best interest of the town as a whole, [has] began to evaporate."
Inevitably, someone will stand up and this meeting and talk about how the members of the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance have put in long hours at public meetings, speaking congenially, trying to come up with the best budget for the town, and the real problem is that those who complain the loudest are the ones that don't come to the public meetings.
Then, the budget gets passed, the municipal elections are held, and we move into the slower summer months.
I grew up in a small town and watched these yearly cycles, as regular as the seasons. After college, I wanted more excitement and moved to the big city. Now, as I get older, I have returned to a small town similar to the one I grew up in, with the same frustrating, and somehow comforting, patterns of life.