Time to get involved

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Traditionally, the dawning of a new year, whenever you celebrate it, is a time to take stock and think about change and self-improvement. It's a time to ask ourselves: How can we be better, healthier, kinder?
In that spirit, we offer a New Year's resolution for our communities. Like most resolutions — eat less, exercise more, put away that smartphone — it's easier said than done, but worth the effort.
Our new year's wish is that people in the Northshire engage more with their government in 2019, especially as Town Meeting Day approaches.
As we write this, school districts and towns are putting their budgets together for the new fiscal year that starts July 1, and assembling the agendas for Town Meeting, just two months away. Yet, when those boards look out into the audience, they often see more empty chairs than people.
There's no doubt that modern life is busy and makes demands upon us all. After a full day of multi-tasking, the last thing we might want is to sit on a metal chair for an hour and delve into the granular details of municipal finance or the state formula that determines per-pupil spending. But this stuff is important, and not just because it affects the tax rate. Budgets are really about priorities, when it comes down to it, and the decisions those boards will make, and present to the voters in March, speak to who we are and what we care about.
What are the priorities in your town and school district? What's the benefit of paying a 20 percent share for a highway safety grant? How many hours of patrols by the county sheriff's deputy are enough? Can we afford a raise for our special education paraprofessionals in recognition of their value to families and children?
The time to get educated on your town and school districts' budgets is not when the question is called at town meeting, or after the fact when the tax bill arrives in the mail. It's now, when the Select Board and the School Board are considering competing budget priorities and doing their best to allocate limited resources in the year ahead. They really do want to hear your input.
In local democracy, the day belongs the folks who show up. And that goes beyond voting on Election Day, attending town meeting or standing for election to town office. You don't have to run for office to make a difference; it can be as simple as attending regular meetings, writing an email, or picking up the phone.
It's a good habit worth revisiting and nourishing this winter.


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