Thank you, Mayor Brindle, and the six members of council, who voted to approve the 2018 budget last night and to Mr. Gildea, Councilwoman Habgood and the finance committee members who worked tirelessly to prepare it. Thank you for the lowest tax increase I can recall while producing a budget that provides for smart investment in our town.
For most of my residency here, the same issues of parking, road paving, development, sports fields and downtown have been constantly discussed. For too long, few, mostly reactive, solutions have been implemented, and there has been little accountability for results.
We’ve seen store after store close in downtown while many pointed fingers at “greedy landlords” and the changing economy instead of seeking proactive solutions.
The need for additional sports field capacity has existed for ages, yet only two years ago did planning start for a solution.
In debating the budget, many argued that we shouldn't need consultants, but should instead let town employees take care of everything. As we’ve seen with the storm debris pickup, town employees have day jobs to do, and there isn’t sufficient capacity to work on significant side-projects and get them done quickly. This is the value of consultants when used wisely – they can be brought in for a specific amount of time, with specific deliverables and bring a level of focus and expertise that a town employee doing the project on the side can’t bring.
Controlling spending is an important priority, but for too long, it appears to have been our only one. Despite constant tax increases of over 1.4 percent, our infrastructure and roads have deteriorated. Despite the obvious needs, we have continued to build a surplus from the low level that got us a AAA rating to over $14m. That is $14m of taxpayer money sitting in account rather than being put to work to make Westfield better.
For the past several years, we have been led to believe that the AAA bond rating was of the utmost significance – and justified the growing surplus. We have been sold a bill of goods, as the AAA rating saves approximately one quarter of a percent of interest on a bond issue. On $10m of bonds, this equates to approximately $25,000 per year. Most corporations long ago abandoned efforts to maintain a AAA rating – as they realized the costs didn't justify the benefits. Heading into the 2018 budget cycle, our surplus was sufficient to fund an absurdly high 30 percent-plus of the levy. This isn’t found money – it is money that was taken from tax payers over several years with no plan to spend it. I would prefer to hold onto my own money until it’s needed.
It is disappointing that the hyper-partisanship that has ruined national governance appears to have infiltrated our local government. National political divisions have no place here – and no national political party has a monopoly on good ideas for Westfield. I thank Councilmen LoGrippo and Stokes for eschewing partisanship and voting in favor of this year’s budget.
A month ago, a fellow resident spoke to the town council and suggested that in the corporate world, a new CEO would not take over and make immediate changes – and she argued that you should continue to implement the plans and priorities of the prior leadership. I could not disagree more, as this is not what leaders do. During the last election, the residents voted overwhelmingly for change.
Mayor Brindle, I am thankful that you came to office with a strategy, a team of leaders, and a vision for Westfield. Everything in the 2018 budget passed last night – infrastructure investment, increased paving, economic development, and improved communication – was clearly laid out in the campaign platform that led to your sweeping victory. I see no surprises in this year’s budget and I look forward to seeing progress over the coming year.