In The Arena

Holding the line on taxes

Greenfield mayor has work ahead

We often hear politicians crow about the need for “fiscal austerity” in tough economic times. Well, for at least one local politician, it seems to be more than just talk.

Greenfield Mayor Bill Martin has informed the Town Council that the draft fiscal 2014 budget he is sending to them will be under the 21∕2 percent tax levy the town is allowed to raise under Proposition 21∕2.

“It’s going to be very difficult, but we can’t go to the taxpayers anymore,” Martin said. “I’ve had a number of people come to me and tell me that they are really struggling, and we need to find a way to provide some relief.”

That’s a nice idea — in theory — and one that is consistent with Martin’s efforts to search for innovative ways to reduce expenses while raising additional revenue. But is it possible, given the town’s numerous rising fixed costs.

“I’m not sure, but I respect where the mayor’s thinking is on this,” Greenfield Town Council President David Singer. “I was a little bit surprised when I heard him talk about not going to the levy, but whether we can afford it or not remains the question.”

It’s a question only the council can answer, as that is the body that makes the final decision on how and where Greenfield spends its money, and Martin plans to make sure it has all the tools it needs to have as much of a “big picture” perspective on the budget as possible.

“We need to really force ourselves on this budget, which is why we’ve gone to extreme lengths to give you all the information you need,” Martin told councilors recently. “So that when we approach you with the budget and every department in town says ‘I don’t have enough,’ you’ll understand why ... it’s because we’ve spent everything we have.”

For a Town Council which has been craving to be more of an “equal partner” in the governing process, this could either be a golden opportunity or a nightmare. We’ll see which starting next month.

Coming and going

Allow me to be the first to congratulate Gov. Deval Patrick on his nationwide search for an interim senator to replace new Secretary of State John Kerry.

I must admit to not knowing a whole lot about Senator-designate William “Mo” Cowan, other than his connection to Patrick, as his former chief of staff and legal protege. But I’m sure he’ll do a fine job in his caretaker role, that did not, I’m pleased to say, go to former Congressman Barney Frank, who all but demanded Patrick give him the job during a recent appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program.

I was glad to see Patrick not take that bait, and so Frank can now shuffle off into retirement while Kerry heads to Foggy Bottom and the election-weary voters of Massachusetts prepare for another potentially bruising and expensive Senate campaign. But as much fun as that will be to watch, it is going to be a little strange not having Kerry in the Senate, a place he has called his second home since the days of big hair, leg warmers and parachute pants. It seems hard to believe that he is now the nation’s top diplomat, and at a time when that position might never be more important.

Young speakers

I think it’s sometimes easy to get cynical about the future of America given what we see and hear from some kids today. But my faith in the next generation was restored somewhat last weekend, when I was fortunate enough to serve as a judge for the 76th annual American Legion National High School Oratorical Scholarship Competition.

The competition involved four students from Massachusetts District Two in the Hampshire and Franklin County areas. Each contestant was required to give two speeches — a longer, prepared version on some aspect of the Constitution, and a second shorter presentation based on a specific constitutional issue (in this case, the Second Amendment), for which they would have five minutes to prepare.

I was blown away by the level of sophistication and poise of these young people, their ability to think critically and break down some pretty heady and complicated socio-political concepts, and their obvious passion to preserve the democracy in which we live — which, sadly, we don’t see enough of from the youth of today.

So, take a bow, Caroline Lord from Stoneleigh-Burnham School, Ben Potee-Martin and Austin Blair from Pioneer Regional School and Nathaniel Birnbaum from Wachusett Regional School. Now hurry up and get through college so you can get elected to Congress and help save our Republic from sinking farther into the ideological abyss than it already has.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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