I attended the Arlington town meeting last night in the sweltering gymnasium of the Arlington Memorial High School. It was a solid 2 and half hour affair that covered school budgets, fire hydrants, emergency preparedness, special ballot initiatives, and legislation.
If you’re not familiar with town meetings, they’re a gathering of citizens typically before election day where they essentially have an opportunity to review the town and school board reports in order to grill their elected officials on their budgets, initiatives, past accomplishments, and future plans. This is a time for the tax payers to talk back in an open forum and to have a conversation with their elected officials. It also provides an opportunity for the elected officials to address these concerns, hopefully resolving them once and for all.
For the most part I was very impressed with Arlington’s town meeting. Though the high school tuition is rather high, it’s hard to know where to make cuts since the school has produced great results, earning awards over the past year for academic excellence. The school board did an excellent job answering questions with the one exception of computer costs. Apparently the school board is prepared to spend $1500 per computer for labs that will have close to 175 computers. Many residents jumped all over that, challenging them to consider other options since many computers can be purchased for $800. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the school budget is the evaporation of federal funds, which means the town has to pick up the cost to provide all of the expected services.
When it came to discussion of the town budget, one resident was particularly concerned about the budget for the fire department, picking apart line items budgeted for double the previous year’s expenses, as well as pagers that were $200 more expensive than the highway department’s pagers. The selectboard and fire chief addressed these concerns, but admitted that many of the expenses are hard to predict, especially in the emergency services department. It seemed that many of these issues paled in comparison to the concern to the antiquated fire hydrants in the center of town that are fed by inadequate lines. This is going to be addressed in part this year, but it seems that we could have spent a lot more time hammering out those particulars rather than debating what kind of pagers the firemen need, IMHO.
The highlight of the evening was the report given by our representative to the state house Cynthia Browning who gave a peppy summary of her struggles up in Montpelier to cut taxes for those in the lower income brackets, to provide cell and broadband internet to the parts of Arlington and Sandgate without coverage, and to improve Catamount Health. She was frank and honest about her work, but exhibited a positive, can-do attitude that ended the meeting on a great note.
She actually stopped by our home during dinner while she was campaigning for election one year ago. I said to my wife that I wish we’d had her in for a bite to eat back then.
Browning did share that she’ll be having breakfast at Chauncey’s from 8-10 AM on Saturdays for anyone who wants to catch up with her. It looks like we’ll have our chance to eat with her after all. Keep in mind that she’s not treating all who attend to breakfast!