Being Straight with Voters

Every time the Londonderry Fire budget comes up and the need for four additional firefighters is aired, the Town Council responds with a warning that residents would never support that financially all at once. Members say they have to find a way to explain the need and keep suggesting doing the hiring piecemeal, so as to more easily pass voter scrutiny.
In the Hampstead-Timberlane school districts, administrators and school boards both say explanations are necessary to get voters to understand why budget requests are being made, and, in Hampstead, why they should support a major funding request for additions to both schools in the current economy.
Is this a new concept? Shouldn’t public officials be transparent and open in crafting budget requests?
While many – probably most – voters don’t have all the facts at their fingertips, we hate to lump them all as unintelligent and unable to figure out what they’re being asked to do. And we’re proud of the fact that this newspaper reports regularly on budget and warrant article proposals and prints as much as possible on those matters to help voters get up to speed on the admittedly hard to understand budgets.
Of course, we can’t force anyone to read the newspaper, and we can imagine that eyes may glaze over when faced with an explanation of a General Fund budget. But it’s vital nonetheless, and we’re not sure what trying to make it “palatable” for voters really means.
Because, for example, the hard fact is that firefighters work in battalions and their work day and work week are unlike those in other departments. Adding only one firefighter, as the Londonderry chief and his predecessor have explained countless times, doesn’t take care of current staffing and overtime problems. Most people can easily understand why they would like a fully staffed crew responding if their house catches on fire. Why more firefighters are needed can be explained in plain English, and yes, four more employees costs money. That can’t be swept under the rug.
The same thing applies in Sandown and Hampstead. Budgets and warrant articles are at their heart a choice of what to fund. Do Hampstead voters want major school building improvements this year? That’s the question.
And we can’t forget downshifting of expenses from the state to the towns and schools. Downshifting accounts for a good portion of every town and school district tax bill’s increase each year – money the state used to pay that now comes out of your wallet. If you don’t like that, why do you vote for legislators who support downshifting? There’s a real question that deserves an answer.