Annual Town Meeting does not need to be held June 22, 2020

The Town of Great Barrington is using FEAR to tell its voters, “this meeting must happen now!”

To the editor:

The Great Barrington Annual Town Meeting does not have to be held this Monday. In fact, it shouldn’t be for many reasons. However I will focus on one of the more important.

The Town of Great Barrington is using FEAR to tell its voters, “this meeting must happen now!” The rationale is that we can’t operate without having a budget approved by the end of June. That simply is not true.

The Town is suggesting that we need to approve a budget that calls for more than a 5% increase and is based at least somewhat on numbers that are not likely to happen in our current environment. For instance, they are assuming a 30% increase in revenue from receipts from pot shops, hotels, and restaurants, etc. Those have all been closed, or extremely curtailed, for months so there has been virtually $0 revenue coming in from that. Additionally, it will take an unknown amount of time for those businesses to recover to the point where their tax receipts were at this time last year, much less a 30 percent increase.

The proposed budget is counting on an increase of about 4.5 percent in state aid. All indications for the past three months are that there is no certainty of any level of State aid but that it will probably be significantly lower than last year.

Without the tax receipts and State aid the burden will be borne solely by the Great Barrington taxpayers – translated: your taxes will go up even more than you are being told.

The School budget is also asking for an increase (which I will not touch on).

By waiting a month the Town will be forced to stick to 1/12th of the approved FY20 budget from last year- each month- until the Town Meeting votes to authorize a FY21 budget.

The proposed budgets (town and school) do not take into consideration the current economic situation, they lack vision, and they lack leadership. The Town should be coming to its people with a stripped down budget at this time. If the revenue does eventually come in, they can call a Special Town Meeting later in the year (say around the undefined time they expect all the citizen petitioners to defer to) and seek to modify the budget accordingly at that meeting.

Again, this meeting is not necessary at this time except to propagate fear and to try to slide in a budget that would otherwise face extreme scrutiny.

It is for this reason that I will be prepared to make several motions at the ATM Monday evening:

Motion 1: At the outset of the meeting I will make a motion to adjourn until July 20, 2020 at a time and place to be determined by the Selectboard. That notification of such time and place will include mailings to all registered voters at least 10 days prior to the resumption of the meeting.

I’m fairly certain this will cause attempts to sow fear and doubt. Worry not, the Town will continue to function – it will just be locked into the financial levels of last year’s budget, and no additional expense to the taxpayer – other than the insignificant (compared to the scope of the overall budget) cost of the meeting.

If this motion is approved by two-thirds of the voters present, we can go home. This will allow for the Selectboard and Finance Committee to come back to the voters with a budget that reflects the current economic conditions, rather than the conditions from when they started the process last year. To be sure, the Selectboard and Finance Committee have had ample time to make these adjustments for the several months we have been aware of the economic consequences of the pandemic.

Adjourning the meeting will allow all citizen petitioners to have time to better prepare for presentation of their articles, and the townspeople to have time to understand them fully.

Adjourning the meeting will shorten the exposure to each other until we will be even further down the road of our understanding of the pandemic.

Most importantly from a voter’s rights standpoint, adjourning will allow for ALL registered voters of Great Barrington to be properly notified of the upcoming meeting and its contents, thus allowing all to have an opportunity to fully understand what is being presented.

Should my first motion not pass, I will make:

Motion 2: That articles 1 – 21 be passed over. This will require the Town to utilize a 1/12th budget as mentioned above yet allow for the citizens petitions to go forth if desired.

If neither of those passes, I will be prepared to make many motions to adjust the requested budget items which, if all are approved, would reduce the operating budget request by about $1.4 Million. This last option is something I believe the SB and FC should have done already. This option will likely make for a very long meeting. However, if they are passed the taxpayers will be much less likely to see any tax increase this year.

Steve Farina

Great Barrington