Lowell Sun editorial : Dracut’s penny-wise pound-foolish ways

Today’s Lowell Sun Editorial points out the schizophrenic voters in Dracut who voted against anyone opposing the override questions, but then voted against the questions themselves.
I agree with the point that the selectmen’s decision to split the question to two turned out to be the right one, as one question was fairly close to passing (a change of 71 out of 5000 voters would have done that), but the school question was doomed because of the decisions to give administrative raises just as the campaign had begun.
I understand recruiting and retention, and why those pay increases in the long run would keep us stable and probably save us money, but it was too easy a target for a questioning voter to sway his opinion.
As to the safety side, I did not hear one person out on the streets that day even mention that police report. To most people in Dracut it is forgotten and the Manager will deal with it.  But to the average taxpayer who has been living through this recession, it is still hard to give up any more money to government.  This vote would have supported very visible.. very concrete services.. and that swayed a lot of people, but not enough for this to succeed.
The Presidential election, I still propose, has sickened a lot of people with respect to politics.. and turned a lot more to no longer apathy but to disdain and disgust of politics and government.  I truly believe that had an impact here.
The Lowell Sun

True to form, Dracut voters rejected both the public-safety and school Proposition 2 1/2 overrides in Monday’s election, thus retaining its image as a town tight with a buck.

The two questions would have added $1.1 million spread around the community’s taxpayers, increasing the average annual residential tax bill by $106.

Actually, the public-safety override almost passed muster, failing by just 140 votes. It would have funded the hiring of six police officers and three firefighters. The school override for technology upgrades attracted far less support.

In hindsight, the selectmen’s decision to split the funding requests into two questions seems vindicated by the results. Together, there’s no doubt they were doomed to fail miserably.

If residents needed further reason to refuse this added tax burden, developments that occurred leading up to the election certainly reinforced their resolve.

On the school side, it was the 8 percent raise given Superintendent Steven Stone and lesser amounts to his top administrators. On the public-safety side, it was the scathing audit of the Police Department, which identified the majority of its officers as having no faith in the chief or deputy chief.

And voters apparently had no problem splitting their allegiance when it came to choosing winners and losers. The two candidates who campaigned against the overrides, incumbent Selectman Cathy Richardson and School Committee challenger Tim Woods, were both soundly defeated.

Obviously, Richardson also was saddled with those animal-cruelty allegations and the resulting August trial date, which more than likely sealed her fate.So now, top town officials must regroup and fashion municipal and school budgets without those override funds.

That will entail sacrifices that the majority of residents are apparently willing to make. Remember, that damning police audit also indicated that to meet the national average of police to residents, Dracut would need to hire an additional 19 officers — not just the six it sought.

So short of some basic reorganization of both Police and Fire departments, no more than three cruisers will be patrolling the town at any one time, and fire engines will often be deployed with just two firefighters.

And the school system, already near the bottom in the state for what it spends on its students, will spur more parents to send their children to private, parochial or charter schools.

That’s one way to consolidate school spending.

But it’s no way to run a municipal government.


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