Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Of clarinets, basketballs, and bike lanes


If you’ve followed the silliness that is the Brunswick annual budget formulation and approval process, and even more so, followed our coverage of same, you know that shameless demagoguery is de-rigueur.

Total annual expenditures, including both School Department and Municipal functions, are now approaching $60 million.  Or, in round numbers, about $3,000 for every man, woman, and child in the town.

The old rule of thumb in advancing the budget is the proven ‘police and firemen’ first ploy.  That is, if public resistance surfaces, threaten to reduce public safety budgets to scare the living bejeezus out of those who dared speak up.  “How dare you put our children, our elderly, our disabled, and our very public identity at risk by questioning public safety spending?!?!!”

                    Image result for town budget hearings

That’s usually enough to silence the critics.  Other ploys in the past have been suggestions that fifth grade band would have to go (clarinets) or that junior varsity athletics (basketballs) in junior high might have to be cut back.

Oh the horror!  To mitigate a big increase in a $50 million budget baseline, our elected leaders come up with a drop in the bucket proposal that opens up the public tear ducts.  History proves that the ploy is almost always successful, because several directly effected taxpayers will show up at the next meeting to protest, swearing they’ll gladly pay whatever more they have to pay in property taxes to make sure the clarinets and basketballs don’t get snatched away from their darling children, to whom these items represent life itself.

This year, it looks like a new kind of fish has been found in local waters.  Witness this item in The Forecaster.

The first item to receive scrutiny was the final proposal for a "sharrow" bike lane on Federal Street.  A "sharrow," also known as a shared lane marking, "simply means there are painted insignias on the road that alert drivers that bicycles are allowed to be riding there," Councilor Kathy Wilson said.

There have been several versions of this proposal over the past two years, and this iteration reflects input from the Brunswick Downtown Association, Town Planning staff, Police Department, and Federal Street residents, among others, according to the Brunswick Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

Wilson said Federal Street is the only place in the country where four national bike routes converge on one road.  "(Bicyclists) already use Federal Street a lot," she said. "All this does is make it a little safer."

The project comes with a price tag of $1,350 to cover paint and signs. Town Manager John Eldridge said there are town funds allocated to cover the proposed costs.  In response, Councilor John Perrault noted that "this is a tough budget time," and asked if the advisory committee could possibly raise money for a donation to the town to help fund the project.

No doubt this more than one-thousand dollar item will be at the very core of budget deliberations this year, and we look forward to those who will show up in colorful spandex garb and fashionable helmets to help prioritize local spending.  And it’s always helpful to have a trendy new word to signal a ‘new era for Brunswick being put at risk.’

    Image result for brunswick maine council meetings 

You gotta go with long pole in the tent, as they say.

Doesn’t this just make you giddy with hopes for the coming fiscal year?  Throw in revaluation, and you’ve got a perfect train wreck, more or less.

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