TASC list: Summertime reflections

The cooling winds of August remind us of the natural beauty of the Northeast, and right here in Wilton, the splendid roadside vistas and flowering home gardens. But as sturdy New Englanders we recognize the quickly passing seasons, the work to be done, plans to be made, and provisions for the future.

So we catch up on vacations, consider growth and change, check our project lists, and think about the major impacts in our lives. Midwinter will herald the “budget” season in our town – when all the discussions, information sessions, public disclosures, and elegant presentations unfold. The work behind all that is being done today – with requirements options and alternatives, spreadsheets, accounting reconciliations, and assorted forecasting methods, all in play.

The snowy early months of 2014 will be much too late to climb aboard this fast moving express of assumptions, estimates, actuals, and trends. It is important for the Board of Finance to offer now not only guidance, benchmarks, and milestones, but establish some rules for the application of due diligence by the budget authors. That is, they must be responsible for demonstrating early in the process that they have examined every opportunity for saving, productivity, cost effectiveness, and efficiency –­ at each and every step along the way. In other words, what is best for our entire town.

Nothing else will suffice. Every school department and function and every town operation should show where they have found and implemented improvements, and provide examples of alternatives and options considered but rejected, perhaps, on the grounds of non-applicability to their own methods.  Without that evidence, the financial authorities must make it clear that no single budget line item will be considered or recommended for endorsement.

Taxpayers and all interested parties should participate now in the effort to recommend improvements and offer suggestions. Their voices need to be heard at this time. Contact Board members with finance, school, and selectman responsibilities. Inject the disciplines of prudence, frugality, and Yankee ingenuity into our most important pathway to stability, sustainability, and prosperity.

Otherwise, we risk the descent into despair being experienced by so many areas and towns across the country. As examples:

1) cities tumbling into bankruptcy and abandon

2) tax burdens that discourage homebuyers and potential newcomers

3) job loss through unfavorable climates for growth and prosperity

4) school systems laden with administration and overhead and stagnated student achievement

5) government bodies that pay lip service to problems while offering no real solutions

6) a disillusioned citizenry that sees no other option than to leave

Wilton works busily during the budget season – but by then the cement of plans and procedures has hardened. The numbers are carved in stone. The tough questions and concerns have been deflected or ignored. So it would seem that there is much to be gained by acting in advance.

We can support best practices and the search for better ways to accomplish more while spending less. We can substitute reasonable discussions based on fact and findings for noisy debates and unanswered questions at the town meetings. We can introduce a culture of “efficiency is everybody’s business” into a process that is mostly closed as it develops objectives, and then only open when it’s too late to change.

Wilton can become a standout among jurisdictions that promote careful, cautious, and concerted efforts to remain stable. It can rise above the tide of sinking communities that continually turn the financial crank toward straight line increases. We can do better. And as a result, we will become stronger.

TASC (Toward A Stronger Community) is an independent citizens’ group seeking collaborative initiatives aimed at effectiveness, process improvement, and quality assurance across all town and school operations to produce increased value and contained cost.