Finance board encourages more civic engagement during budget process

Two days prior to the poorly attended presentation of the fiscal year 2016-17 school budget, the Board of Finance stressed the importance of public participation in the budget process during its Jan. 26 meeting, and encouraged people to attend budget meetings.

“We encourage participation and we’d like to hear the feedback,” said finance board member Walter Kress. “We are representing the community and we ask as many people to attend those meetings as possible.”

Finance board member Richard Creeth said the board hears from a “minuscule, statistically insignificant portion of the population” and does its best to “extrapolate from that.”

However, he said, “as any statistician would tell you, it’s a dangerous stipulation.”

Creeth said he would like to hear more from the “large constituency of people who come here specifically for the schools” and are invested in the school system.

“I’d encourage that group, who we didn’t hear a lot from last time, to come out and let us know how they feel about this,” he said,”so that we can get a more comprehensive feel of what the town, as a whole, really wants.”

Board of Finance Chair Jeff Rutishauser agreed and said the sole purpose of budget meetings is to hear from the public.

“In years past, we had a lot more participation and we got a better sense of what the town wants,” he said, but “if 10 people come, that may or may not be representative of all the people in town.”

Rutishauser said he was encouraged by this past November’s election turnout and is “hoping that that level of civic engagement will continue forward into this year’s budget season and Annual Town Meeting.”

“We [the Board of Finance] don’t approve anything; we just recommend to the town. We’d like to know that what we’re recommending is what [the community] will approve of, and last year, we got it wrong,” said Rutishauser.

“We’ve never had, to my knowledge, two years in a row that the town budget had more people voting against it than for it. That’s why it’s [important] for us to get it right this time.”

Creeth also pointed out that “we’ve never had a town budget where so many people didn’t vote at all.”

A schedule of the budget meetings is available on the town’s website,