Vol. III No. 8 4/15/2022
Photo: Blue Moon Images/Dana Goedewaagen
A Long Tale With a Happy Tail End
I. Where We Are
December in Stockbridge: roads are snow-choked and a nearby bridge is closed. Without warning, you or a family member needs emergency medical attention. You call 911. The aging Fire Department vehicle breaks down enroute. The road, the bridge, and the vehicle — those are the costs of deferred maintenance. Eventually those costs catch up, and for Stockbridge, this is the year.
According to our Fire Chief, to serve Stockbridge, we need vehicles in good working order. Instead, Stockbridge has vehicles older than 25 years, rusted out, and in need of parts no longer available. We had fewer active fires last year than calls for Emergency Medical Services. There were over 250 EMS calls, and that fits our demographic.
The median age in Stockbridge is close to 63 years. Our resident population has grown to 2000 — that means 1000 are younger than 63 and 1000 are older than 63. The median age in Massachusetts is 39.2 years. Stockbridge is noticeably older. We should be ready to meet our anticipated needs.
Why aren't we? For years we deferred maintenance — everywhere — pipes underground, bridges overhead, vehicles in the Highway and Fire Departments. Putting things off helps maintain low taxes and builds balances in bank and investment accounts. However, the disadvantages can be shocking especially if they all catch up in one year. Folks, this is the year, and the moment must be met.
We cannot solve the problem by perpetuating it. We can no longer delay and defer; we must catch up with our obligations. Only afterward can we put plans in place; a staggered purchasing schedule, an equipment savings account, and other ideas smart folks will suggest. Right now, we must do the necessary rather than explain the day after why the patient died or the house burned to the ground.
II. Who We Are
Can we save money somewhere? Yes.
Stockbridge is a village, small and self-governing. We are the closest thing to pure democracy still extant, and that is not rhetoric. At Town Meeting the people control the purse strings. How we spend is how we prioritize and how we prioritize is how we govern. What we vote to pay for and what we leave undone is who we are.
We control spending but we must know what we are voting on; our representatives must enable us to make wise decisions by making the issues and the warrant clear. Only then can we vote to pay for the necessary, save on the unnecessary and never abdicate our responsibility to self-govern.
III. Where We Almost Were
This year we almost lost that power. There was a proposed warrant item that would have lumped together a number of expenditures. We almost lost the ability to vote on each expenditure individually. Such a warrant item is tricky; a political strategy to push something unpopular through. A choice between all and nothing is always a false choice.
There is no place for that on our warrant — for political tools to slip a less popular or more controversial item passed the voters by placing it among mandatory spending.
IV. Even between Elections
There are so many "sayings" about democracy and how hard it is. They are all true. Democracy requires vigilance and intercession. Why? Power is tempting. Who doesn't like having the say-so and getting their own way? Many people worked very hard to get the Omnibus-style bill off the warrant. First folks had to learn about it. That took weeks because we are not as transparent as we could be. As much as elected officials dislike the press and the loyal opposition, the people need both.
Once Stockbridge learned about it, word got out. There were the Stockbridge grapevine, a woman with a great email list, and a man with the courage to stand up and say his piece. It worked. The people pressed and the Select Board bowed to pressure.
Yes, yes, it is easier for the people to apply pressure closer to an election. Sure, we hope it would work all the time, even between elections, and yet isn't it nice to know that democracy at work does indeed work. The people spoke; the representatives listened.
Our representatives are our friends and neighbors. As friends and neighbors, we all need to be on same side — the only side — pulling for Stockbridge.
Sorry for the length — at least it delivered a happy ending!
Photo: Jay Rhind