First of all, I applaud Mr. Wojcik’s attempt to provide some factual information about town finances including both the town’s annual operating and capital budgets as well as some of the other current liabilities such as Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB). In addition to being a member of the town’s Finance Committee and a past member of the Capital Planning Committee, Mr. Wojcik has useful workplace experience in developing and managing corporate budgets. During the meeting Mr. Wojcik was criticized a number of times by some attendees, particularly about the accuracy of a $35 million OPEB future liability but he pointed to an official town analysis by Scanlon & Associates as his source. Similar objections were voiced about a report on town infrastructure problems and there were attempts by some attendees to discredit this information as well.
Other than one flamboyant outburst by a well-known town resident and regular poster on this blog, the meeting proceeded with a reasonable decorum- far better than the previous forum on April 12 (see my previous post)…. that is, until Mr. Wojcik turned the meeting from an information session into a political debate about Select Board candidates for the upcoming election and the inadvisability of electing former/ current School Committee members to the Select Board. What followed was not unexpected from my vantage point given the makeup of the audience.... the meeting turned into a similar “shouting match” situation as did the April 12 forum and the meeting ended on a very sour note….
Regarding Mr. Duquette’s latest post here on the Buzz blog…
I have listened and attended numerous Select Board/ School Committee meetings as well as official public forums on the current school/town budgets and high school building project during the past 9 months. I believe that I understand the situation quite well and have become very concerned about where we are headed.
Mr. Duquette makes the following statement in his latest Buzz post…
“The library is an operating expense, while the new high school is a capital expense. Closing the library doesn’t do anything to advance the high school project.”
He also states that Mr. Wojcik would have “earned a poor grade in my public budgeting course”. During the meeting Mr. Duquette also restated his recurring theme that “you can’t run public government like a business”.
As Mr. Wojcik tried to explain at last night’s meeting, a capital expenditure turns immediately into an line item operating expense through annual repayment of interest + principal. For the proposed high school project this operating budget line item is likely to be ~ $3.5 – 4.0 million in FY2014 (based upon estimates by Paul Pasterczyk- Town Finance Director but actual numbers are dependent upon municipal bond interest rates). (See my recent post to determine individual property tax impact.)
Mr. Duquette’s approach is similar to many new HS school building advocates who have simply decided to ignore or discount or discredit mention of the any other financial needs of the town and want to simply move forward and build the new high school. They do not want to discuss the financial ability of Longmeadow’s town residents to support such a project.
I believe that we are making a mistake if we simply choose to ignore Longmeadow’s other financial issues as we debate the decision to build a new high school. Given our difficulties in formulating the FY11 budget, it is clear that we will be making additional difficult choices in the very near future… not necessarily ones that we want to make but ones that we are forced to make. These unpopular choices may include reductions in teachers, fire dept/ police dept staff, additional curtailment of library services ……
Our town leaders need to BALANCE available financial resources to deliver both school and town services so that all segments of our town population are treated fairly. With two seats (out of 5) on the Longmeadow Select Board being decided at the June 8 election, it is important for town voters to fully understand each candidate’s position on this issue so that they can make right choices.