Listen to the People

It’s out of the ordinary when a Town Council meeting is standing-room-only and then some, with a second room opened to house the overflow.

And it’s downright extraordinary when that crowd has come out on a wintry night to protest budget cuts.

Yes, to protest budget cuts.

But that’s what  happened in Derry last week – a showing of heartfelt opposition to drastic proposed cuts in police, fire, public works and other services, including the potential closing – yet again – of the Taylor Library and funding cuts for social service agencies serving Derry residents.

Everyone wants lower property taxes, and those taxes don’t get much higher than the ones Derry homeowners face. But there’s also the matter of quality of life, and having police and fire at the ready is something many Derry residents headed to the Municipal Center to say they want to maintain.

This year the Town Council told new administrator Galen Stearns to cut the tax rate by $2 per thousand. His proposal was presented last week. In past years, department heads visited the Council to explain their needs and justify their expenses. That didn’t happen this year. Stearns had his new finance director, Susan Hickey, talk with the department heads. He took what she told him and went from there.

And now? A citizen’s petition with 731 signatures asks the Council to bring in the department heads for the public to hear at a Council meeting. To explain, for example, what the proposed closing of a fire station and cutting of firefighters would mean to response time. What fewer police would mean to the crime rate.

They offered suggestions as well, as some letters to the editor we have printed recently made clear. Those included cutting higher salaries and reducing the number of administrators but keeping line staff.

And in Stearns’ proposal, one of the best suggestions was to phase in tax cuts over a four-year period, rather than trying to hack it out in one year and damn the impact of the tax cap for years to come.

Think about what a major cut like that would do to your income and what you’d have to do without.

Are Derry residents just eager to pay more taxes? Hardly. But they want services vital to their well-being included in the budget, and that information – and the repercussions from proposed cuts – have not been made clear.

They deserve those facts. While the Town Council is to be commended for trying a new way to develop a budget, cutting services without facts or transparency is no way to go.

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