Sunday, June 8, 2008

Ben's advice for Franklin

This is the text of a "Letter to the Editor" that I submitted to the Milford Daily News in May 2007. It did not get published that I was ever aware of. Other than the dates, the sentiment applies just as much now as it did in 2007. Oh, and it took a year, but the Town Council has finally appointed the committee referenced here to come up with the Five Year plan.

We arrived here over 11 years ago. Yes, we were part of Franklin’s big growth wave. At the time, we came because of the good schools, the affordable housing, the central location to most of the major cities of New England, and especially the rail transportation to Boston. Those reasons are still valid today. Our two daughters have graduated from Franklin High School and are now both in college. Yes, we have two tuition bills to face. But you know, we knew that before we came here. We have planned for this period of our family life for some time.

So let’s put the Franklin budget problem in perspective. Many, if not all, of the Finance and Town Council members at one time or another have said that this budget problem was several years in the making. Continuing to draw down the stabilization fund while limiting departmental budget growth in order to balance the budget has created a situation where the slightest change in a single factor sends major cuts through the budget. This year it was reported to be the special education increase mandated by the Commonwealth. Next year, it is likely to be something else that will force further cuts. And oh, by the way, if the override fails this year, another $1 million of our savings will be forced to be spent on unemployment insurance for the town and school personnel laid off. This will leave our savings at only $2 million dollars.

Yet, the Finance Committee on April 30th reviewed all the department multi-year capital plans. They commended each department for the level of detail provided to justify what they needed.

So where is our multi-year operating plan? When will the Town Council ask the Town Administrator and Finance Committee to lay that out for us? We have an override vote scheduled for May 22, how many more will we need to pass to get out of this mess?

“Industry need not wish” is the quote from Ben Franklin visible on the wall plaque in the Franklin Town Council chambers. Ben wrote this in the early 1700’s. In those days, “industry” meant hard work. Hard work meant sweat and labor. If you worked hard, you did not have to wish for something. If you worked hard, you got something for it. The residents of Franklin should ponder this quote. There is much to gain from the insights that Ben had.

We can chose to let the Commonwealth of MA fund half our school expenses.
We can continue to solicit our loyal legislative contacts for increases in any and all aid possible.
We can continue to live as Franklin was just a “little town”.

However, danger lies down those roads.

While Franklin’s growth in the last decade has started to slow a little due to the current economic conditions, it is here and with us. It will not go away as much as some might wish it too.

It is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
It is time to start paying our own way.
It is time to start planning for what the next couple of years budgets will look like.

What do we do?

The override vote on May 22 needs to be passed.
The home of the first public library can not let it close.
The birthplace of Horace Mann can not let our own children suffer the education cuts proposed if this override fails.

Then the Town Council needs to start working with all parties to provide the Franklin voters a multi year plan. It is possible, it can be done. Their leadership is required. To do otherwise would be fiscally irresponsible.

Vote “yes” on May 22. Then let’s get the appropriate folks to work on the multi year operating plan. As Ben said, “Industry need not wish”.

This was originally posted at Steve's 2 Cents on May 20, 2007.

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