J and I had a unique experience today. We went to Town Meeting. As unexciting as that may sound, it was truly invigorating.
A little background for you. Most NH towns are not run by city managers, city councils and mayors, you know the people you elect to make decisions for you. Instead, they are run by selectmen, but more importantly, the townspeople themselves. This is our first experience with this form of government. The five selectmen are elected for three-year terms. Basically anyone with a few friends can run. They meet Monday nights to talk about everything from land acquisitions to how to manage town business. The meetings are … comical. Maybe the wrong word to use, but from my experience, the five people never agree. So they argue. A lot.
This time of year is particularly interesting. Town departments propose their budgets, the selectmen recommended changes, then the departments take their changes to a budget committee, who obviously try to cut wherever possible to keep taxes low. So the budget committee presents their revised (read: cut) department budgets at town meeting and the residents vote on it. Have I lost you yet? The main idea is that in NH, you “live free or die.” With no income or sales tax, property taxes fund everything. And it’s all transparent, so people get to decide ultimately where their money goes.
Town meeting apparently got out of hand last year. With crazy increases in property taxes, people were fired up. They wanted to save money every way they could. The town submitted a petition to vote out the recreation department … oh, and the fire department. By a difference of 150 votes, the rec department was saved by the townspeople. This would be the reason the last recreation director left. Mind you, we were not aware of this when considering the job and the move. But, we’re here now, love it and J is up for the challenge.
This year, the budget committee and the residents attacked summer camp. J requested $16,000 to pay for camp counselors. Everything else for the camp (supplies, events) comes from a different part of J’s budget. The committee wanted to cut the $16K primarily because they think summer camp is a babysitting service for rich people and it’s a “want,” not a “need.” Did I forget to mention that this $16,000 divided amongst all the townspeople would cost approximately $6 per family with a $300,000 house? So for the last few weeks, J has been working hard to crunch numbers and be prepared for endless questions from those who disagreed. When it came down to that agenda item at town meeting, there was heated debate. Let me put it to you this way. The whole meeting lasted 4 hours to discuss 21 articles. Summer camp was debated for over an hour. It came down to a ballot vote. By a difference of 70 votes or so, summer camp will live.
This means we will be staying in NH another year! But, this is certainly not the end of the debate on recreation. Nor the end of selectmen stories.