The next chapter in the saga of Wellfleet’s financial misadventures will be written this Saturday at the annual town meeting. I live in Wellfleet, so I will be there, and I’ll have to make up my mind about whether to vote for a proposed operating budget that requires a half-million-dollar Proposition 2½ override or for a “contingency” budget with cuts in town services.
It’s not a happy choice. I suspect that a lot of others are perplexed, too. So, I called up a few knowledgeable folks in town whose opinions I value to see if they could help me make sense of things.
“I find it confusing,” said Berta Bruinooge, the former select board member, confirming my sense that I’m not the only one scratching my head. “Wellfleet has become a town full of second homes,” she said, “so a lot of people who pay taxes here don’t live here. Those who do live here, many of them retired on fixed incomes, are struggling with high prices. Many working people are still not working full-time. I’m not comfortable with the override budget. I’m more in favor of the austerity budget.”
I talked to one of those second-home owners, Carl Sussman, who has been active in housing initiatives and is an officer of the seasonal residents association. He expressed doubts, too. “They’ve created a difficult choice,” he said. “The austerity budget seems like it was designed to create pain so that people would go for the overrides. I think the cuts will hurt local people.”
I had hoped that the Wellfleet Finance Committee, in its letter to voters in the front of the town meeting warrant booklet, might explain how we got into this predicament and give some direction for getting out of it. But there was no help there. The committee’s statement merely says that it “has undertaken several policy changes to improve its ability to provide sound financial advice,” including meeting regularly with the town administrator and working more closely with the select board.
Moe Barocas, one of the finance committee members, told me the budget question was easy: vote for the overrides. “We can afford it,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do. I don’t want to see people lose their jobs.”
Ira Wood, another finance committeeman, wasn’t happy with the choice, but said he would vote for the override budget, too, “looking at it as a reset” — a chance to wipe the slate clean and start over. “We have always had a ridiculously low budget,” he said, “and it’s been a disservice to the town for a long time. The austerity budget would just set us back a year or two, and we would eventually have to vote for increases in the future.”
Listening to accountant Mary McIsaac’s analysis of the town’s financial history, I think Wood might have it right. Mistakes were made — thousands of them, it turns out — but now we have a chance to write a more coherent chapter in Wellfleet’s books.