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The Valley Reporter
P.O. Box 119
Waitsfield, VT 05673

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Running a town

This may seem curious, but I work as an auditor, have lived in Moretown for 20 years and I have never looked into the town's financial workings or related issues. Like some taxpayers, I have been content to look at my tax bill and be happy that it had not changed all that much in the past few years despite all that has been going on. Now that I am on the select board, I share in the responsibilities with the other board members and I am obligated to understand our financial workings.

When I delve into things, like many people, I initially get anxious because there are many numbers and relating them to each other takes some time. But there are many aspects to financial management other than just the number crunching. Good management requires accurate facts, unbiased opinion and knowing enough to not to make judgment until everything is considered and there is full understanding of the situation.

Given this, it sometimes appears that a town's tax rate is the result of excess spending or reflective of less than adequate management. In reality, it is the result of many challenges that are all too common among Vermont towns and also the fact that it takes money to run a town or any organization. In Moretown, for instance, we have recently had to face the prospect of long overdue maintenance of our town hall; defend our town rules from those who do not agree with them; maintain our roads in normal conditions and at a time of natural disaster; build necessary facilities; and all the while anticipate what is needed.

These issues are not unusual nor are they exclusive to Moretown and they don't happen in a convenient sequence of time. As with many other towns, the money needed has had to come out of our pockets because there are not enough businesses to obtain revenue from nor enough governmental monies available. Our options are to let our assets and equipment deteriorate, let outsiders dictate our neighborhoods and rules, make long detours, cut essential services and not pay our bills--all of this being irresponsible.

For a part-time board, dealing with these issues and with people who are worried about their economic well being, is not an easy job. Many board members have full-time jobs, families of their own to consider, and they also pay taxes. Board members spend a considerable number of hours on issues, don't get paid a large sum of money, and have to figure out ways to get things done with limited funds and limited taxpayer patience. In addition, the funding for town needs has to be managed or juggled over a period of more than a year. So the real way to evaluate a tax rate or the spending is to measure how efficient or effective it was and not just the total. Did we get our money's worth or was it too lavish? That is what should be asked and it is a subjective call on decisions which board members have to make.

To go along with this, better communication on the board's part would probably help taxpayers understand the situation and this is what they should ask for. I am not making excuses nor asking people to agree with every decision that is made, but rather to better understand what it takes to run a town along with the responsibilities and needs, and finally to put all the pieces together before making a judgment or vote.

A better way for understanding would be to get involved, and if you have a better idea or opinion, all the more reason to take an active role. If you are not from Moretown, think about what I said with regard to your own town. Being involved is truly an education, and experiencing it, even if only for one term, is worth the time and effort.

Roberts is a member of the Moretown Select Board.


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