Following Up

That was a pretty good floor meeting held last Saturday over at the MEMS gym. A good-sized crowd was on hand for a series of interesting debates on the issues presented by the Manchester Warning and town report. Not every decision went the way we would have preferred, but that's democracy.

Sometimes it's slow and messy. Probably everyone would agree that it would have been nice to have finished earlier than five and a half hours after the meeting began, but so it goes.

First and foremost, kudos to the voters and supporters of the Mark Skinner Library who turned out to push through an appropriation request for $198,000, an increase of more than $44,000 from last year. As we noted on this page a few weeks ago, The Journal was constrained from editorializing on this subject because of a conflict of interest. Now that voters wisely, in our view, have endorsed the request, we're free to give an editorial pat on the back, we hope, to those who understood the significance of the library to the town and supported the additional funds. The library question was less straightforward than usual this year because of the construction of a new building which, we think, is going to be an enormous community asset. Separating money for day-to-day expenses - which the town's public money goes to support - from the fundraising money the library's leaders are generating for the new building's construction from private sources, was easy to confuse.

Fortunately, the voters got it.

After this year, we hope the select board finally hears the message that this is an item that enjoys broad support throughout the community and should be built directly into the town's budget. That would save a lot of time and acknowledge the library's important role in the community. Next year, if it is a separate warned article, the library's request is probably going to be voted on by Australian ballot, reflecting a change voters made Saturday by a 2-vote paper ballot margin after defeating it by 20 votes in a division of the house vote. We urged voters to reject this article, concerned - and we remain so - that this will undermine the central role of floor discussion and off-the-floor voting at Town Meeting.

We've seen what happens when items are discussed at a floor meeting but are then decided at the ballot box another day. It's called the Manchester School District floor meeting, and it's an embarrassment, as one resident correctly identified it as last Saturday. The relatively few people who bother to show up for the Monday night meeting hear a perfunctory discussion, then adjourn. You can't blame them, or the folks who don't show up. There really isn't much point.

The same fate awaits the municipal floor meeting, we fear. But again, the people spoke, and they plumped for the Australian ballot by the slenderest of margins. So it goes.

Those who may have been pleased by the outcome on Article Five - which will likely move the library appropriation vote off the floor next year, as things seem to stand now - might, however, do well to control their enthusiasm. It's not because the house gets packed that the library vote passes each year by a lopsided margin. Ballot boxes can get "packed" too, because library supporters can also vote at convenient times or by absentee ballot.

Otherwise, it was an informative afternoon for the most part. Putting together a complex town budget is no easy task, and we'll compliment the town's officials for working through that. One small quibble: It might have been interesting to hear more details about why we need to spend $100 - $200,000 for a storage shed for stockpiling the town's supply of road salt and some other items. How big is this structure going to be? We don't question the need for replacing the old shed - but $200,000 sounds like a lot. We'll be interested to see the design when it becomes available.

We were OK with seeing the solution the Manchester Rescue Squad and the town came up with to purchase a new ambulance and will take this opportunity to praise the members of the rescue squad for their great service to the town and the surrounding region. It sounds like this was a creative or at least a best possible solution to the financial issues faced by the squad, so compliments all around on this one. We're also glad to see voters on Saturday endorsed the public safety study and the $20,000 for that. It may be possible to deliver police, fire and rescue services between the towns of Manchester and Dorset more creatively and efficiently. Or it may not. It's worth $20,000 to find out.

One truly good idea we heard off the floor on Saturday was to make Town Meeting Day a holiday (it already is one for state workers) where stores, schools and businesses would close so as many people as possible could attend town meeting. In this expanded format, both the school district and the municipal meeting would be brought back together as one meeting.

Childcare could be provided, and perhaps a community lunch or dinner served. Australian ballot voting would also take place during this meeting. This would preserve the importance of hearing informed discussion and a debate of the pros and cons. It would restore the importance of the school district meeting - where after all, far more tax money is at stake than is the case at the municipal meeting.

Those who understandably place the anticipated tax burden of some appropriation at the top of their thinking should make it a point to attend the school district meeting. Alas, few have, or do.

However, another town meeting has spoken, and overall, there's much to be pleased with. Democracy may grind its wheels slowly and at times clumsily, but in the end, it's the results that count. And this year's results were good.


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