On Sept. 10 two of the biggest towns in Lincoln County will vote to settle budget matters left over from their June town meetings.
Budget hawks in Wiscasset and Waldoboro say the budgets need to be cut, the taxpayers have no more money and the towns have to tighten their respective belts.
That’s all true.
Taxpayers are hard pressed there and everywhere. There is no doubt about that, and their/our lot is not likely to improve any time soon.
However, it is also true local budget figures are not derived in a vacuum. Based on our experience, the budgets produced at the local level in Lincoln County are generally some of the tightest, leanest you’ll find.
There is a reason for that. The selectmen, school board and budget committee members are all members of their communities. They know what time it is, and they know exactly what it is going to feel like when the tax bill comes. It’s their tax bill, too.
Year in and year out, the proposed municipal budgets are developed by people intimately involved in the operations of their town or facility. The budgets are developed by department heads, presented to the board of selectmen, reviewed by the budget committee, discussed in a public hearing, and sent to the taxpayers for approval.
When the big hit comes, in the form of that new school, the new fire engine, the new town building, it usually comes because it’s desperately needed, not just because your local municipal servants decided they wanted the best, newest thing, which admittedly, is nice if you can get it.
This is important because there are real choices on the docket next week.
In Wiscasset, accepting the budget committee recommendations in total will likely gut the town’s ability to provide certain services. Rejecting the budget likely means the loss of the highly regarded town planner and do-all assessor’s agent who has been an integral part of the town office for 35 years.
In Waldoboro voters could choose to slice $60,000 from the police department budget, and $35,000 from public works.
Voters in both towns have a right to do that and they should if they honestly feel it’s the correct choice. That’s democracy in action, but know this: the needs that prompted those budget requests are not going to go away. Somebody is still going to need to oversee ordinances in Wiscasset; roads will still need to be repaired and patrolled in Waldoboro.
There is a cost for everything. Sometimes it’s the cost of buying in and sometimes it’s the cost of doing without.