“Now Wayland needs to be a good neighbor to its own.”


How About ‘Wayland to Wayland?’

For many, 2009 and the years going forward will be remembered as a time of economic struggle and a time of personal sacrifice.

Seven months after Wayland narrowly passed a $1.89 million operational override, its fifth in seven years (it’s been 20 years since Wayland rejected its last override), Wayland maintains an infrastructure, which virtually guarantees an override every other year. Only months after passing that April 2008 override, the U.S. economy imploded to a degree not seen since the Great Depression.

The foreseeable economic future is grim for many. Massachusetts is projected to lose over 250,000 jobs, a significant chunk of those jobs being high-paying. Other projections predict unemployment rates exceeding 8 percent in our state. Wayland is experiencing foreclosures and the number of people identifying themselves to our tax collector as being “at risk” is now increasing. The list of Wayland tax title warnings is growing.

Even though Wayland has experienced significant relative regional decreases in property values (source: Warren Group of Boston), you, most probably, didn’t see a decrease in your actual real estate tax bill. Your real estate taxes are directly tied to town expenditures and our tax rate will float to whatever level required to balance our budget. If assessments go down, our tax rate goes up to fund the difference. Simply put, real estate taxes are primarily driven by municipal spending.

For the foreseeable future, our priority must be on the preservation of Wayland citizen survivability. I therefore propose that our elected officials take a pledge to not ask for overrides on Wayland property taxes for operational purposes, for the next three consecutive fiscal years. The only exception to this pledge – to preserve and protect public safety, the fundamental role of government. If push came to shove, everything else government does should be sacrificed to that end. Safety of our citizens is “job one” for any Board of Selectmen. This includes ambulance, fire, police and nursing services in the schools.

If it was ever the right time for a three-year tax moratorium it is now. The word depression hasn’t been used yet but that’s just semantics. Have you been laid off? Do you know somebody who has been? Do you worry about whether you will have a paycheck next month? If you did lose your income, how long do you think it would take for you to re-establish it to the level it was before you lost it? If you lost your job, could you afford to remain in Wayland and for how long?

Citizen survival is more important than the “business as usual” services that town government has been trying to preserve by promoting overrides. It’s no longer “business as usual,” even in Wayland. If you think it is, you’re way out of touch with the reality being faced by the great majority of your fellow citizens.

But some will say, “when those labor contracts have to be fulfilled it will force another override.” This is most certainly the truth. Town officials have negotiated and signed labor contracts that virtually guarantee overrides every other year. The Ad Hoc Budget Advisory Committee was created in 2006 to reduce town costs by examining ways to save money. Their efforts saved some, but not nearly enough. There are only so many dollars we can save by writing on both sides of a piece of paper, changing health care carriers, or by turning off the lights or turning down the thermostat. Many are one-time savings. Nibbling around the edges does not solve the structural budget deficit.

Even though merging services with Sudbury or Weston could save money, that won’t happen overnight, and we must remember the single largest component of our town’s expenses is labor. Everything else pales in comparison. The simple calculus is that we spend 70 percent on schools and 30 percent on everything else.

Item number ONE the listed Ad Hoc cost-saving line items (click here for document) was to reopen contractual negotiations with our labor force and to ask them to take less. Yes, that’s right, reduce or eliminate their raises. Isn’t that what so many of us in the private sector are living with now?

The White House has imposed wage freezes on its senior staff, at least one Boston union has agreed to a wage freeze to save jobs, and several nearby towns are considering wage freezes. At zero percent salary increases we can avoid overrides and all the town employees might keep their jobs; class sizes could remain intact, and critical life saving services wouldn’t be impacted. We might even want to seek salary reductions. Many companies are now asking for salary reductions to avoid layoffs. Everybody gets to share the pain. Everybody participates in the “sacrifice.”

Given that the real budget deficit is in those labor costs, ask your leaders to reopen those contracts. Just like Congress told the auto companies to ask of the United Auto Workers.

Some will tell you it is irresponsible to take the position of a three-year tax moratorium. I disagree. It is much more irresponsible to force Wayland families to be foreclosed upon or be forced into tax title liens because those families have lost their jobs, lost their health insurance and are now victims of forces beyond their control.

There are some in our town who believe that if you can’t afford to live here then move on out. It doesn’t matter whether you moved in five years ago or 50 years ago. It’s Darwinian Economics, it’s anti-social, and we should not subscribe to that mentality. This economic tailspin has just begun. Each and every one of us might find ourselves in a survival predicament before it’s over. But it is also my belief that the vast majority of Waylanders are charitable and do understand how and when to make sacrifices. Wayland was a good neighbor to Waveland. Now Wayland needs be a good neighbor to its own.

Charles Dickens said in 1844, “Charity begins at home and Justice begins next door.” I therefore challenge all of our sitting officials, all of our school administrators and all of the candidates who now wish to run for public office in April: Will you stop the overrides for three fiscal years? Will you help to Save our Citizens?

The well-being and survival of Wayland families must be the No. 1 priority of our elected officials. It’s irresponsible to think we should solve our budget problems by asking our citizens to pull their belts another two notches tighter. What we need now is Wayland to Wayland. This is the way Wayland should “sacrifice.”

Do you agree? I’d really like to know.

Alan J. Reiss is a former member of the Wayland Selectmen.

He can be reached at “Alan@AJReiss.com

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