So, here we are, looking at a loss of probably about $3 million in state aid in next year's budget. Let the screaming begin.
I'm not patient enough to wait for the city budget to download right now, but I'm willing to bet $3 million that the increase in tax levy and new growth won't cover that decrease. So, the city will have less money next year than this year.
A lot will be said and done between now and July 1. Some of it good, a lot of it bad, some of it just mind-numbingly repetitive and either unsubstantiated or just wrong.
In that spirit, I spent a chunk of my car ride home thinking of all the things I don't want to hear during this budget season. Part of that thinking was motivated by a comment I read somewhere else. It's #1 on this little list. I'm sure they'll all come here in the next five months, and some point said referring to these topics will make me lose my mind. But whatever. I don't have much to lose.
#1. The city should run like a business. Well, yes, it should. But what does that mean, exactly? What happens in business when it's not making enough money? It lays people off or it raises prices. Plenty of places are laying off. Jeez, McDonald's raised the price of a double cheeseburger this fall because costs were getting too high. My point? Business can do two things in tough times: cut, or raise more money. The city is in pretty much the same quandry. So when you say the city should run like a business, what does that mean, exactly?
#2. There are too many school administrators. This is an old-time favorite from last year. It got to the point last year where I started shyly asking spurters of this one, "So, um, like who?" I quickly realized that those who were spouting had no clue. I started asking it almost tauntingly, knowing those saying it couldn't support it. I never got bagged. Forget details like state-mandated positions that might be protected. These people couldn't name a position, forget a person. I asked this question last year here probably a half-dozen times, and never got an answer: Specifically, who? Please, I really do want to know. It will come up again, so let's go, people.
#3. Throw the useless ones out of City Hall. Sounds good. Again, who are they? This goes with #2, and might seem a little more easy to figure out, but who is it? Can someone with real knowledge tell me?
#4. My special thing. Let's admit it, we all have it. I have mine. It's the schools. I've never shied away from it. You have your special thing. Likely, it's police or fire. You don't want it cut. Think the library folks are happy? No. You think the 90 percent of the population that is generally unaffected by the changes at the library care? No. That's an extreme example, but it's true across the board. Departments don't operate in vacuums. What happens over here effects stuff over there. The library changes saved the city $800,000. Think of the cop jobs it saved. It probably kept the Summer St. fire station open. At this point, every dollar kept in one department means one fewer dollar somewhere else. So, embrace your special thing and advocate for it. Try to come up with some way to preserve it. But if it gets cut, remember, there's, um, "revenue enhancements" on the table that can help out. Such is your choice.
#5. We're not Leominster. Agreed. This is not a condition that popped up last week, last month, last year, or last decade. It's been so long, the paths so divergent, that it's no longer acceptible to compare the two cities. It just isn't. Sure, you want to make the point that Fitchburg stinks, but the current situations in the two cities weren't born overnight. It's taken a long, long time to get here. To not recognize that and not consider it is just not very right. It sounds good, but at this point it means nothing.
#6. We can't afford it (Or, stupid Unitil). This one we'll hear this year -- a lot -- until the budget is settled. Trash fee? "No way. We're taxed up the ass as is." Override? "Have you seen my electric bill? No way." There's an emotional logic in that. But it has nothing to do with each other, except your wallet. Let's go back to the old McDonald's double cheeseburger reference from above. Do you think when Ronald McDonald convened his kitchen cabinet to discuss raising the price they said, "You know, Wendy's just raised the price on their burger. Maybe we should hold off on this." Hell, no. We have a lot of time to debate whether or not new fees and taxes are a good idea. But it really doesn't have much to do with Unitil. You might not believe this, but Unitil isn't the root cause of all things dark and evil in Fitchburg.
Look, the next five months are going to be a tough road. People are going to demand certain things don't get cut, and most of them aren't going to want to consider a trash fee, override, or anything else that cost more money. Just go into this knowing the city will have less money next year than it does now, and health insurance and other items are only getting more expensive. Just remember to think about the situation, remember that every action has consequences to the entire budget, and that this is most certainly not going to be easy. I look forward to reading many, many comments that tell me all the above is ridiculous.