With some time to reflect on what has transpired around New Hampshire regarding Town and School meetings, one town stands out for its ability to have a taxpayer organization start and become effective immediately. That town is Hopkinton.
I was at some of the fledgling meetings of The Hopkinton Contoocook Taxpayers Association. There was a palpable feeling of change coming from the start. At least 50 people attended one meeting I was at. Everyone had a chance to express dismay at how spending and assessments were becoming a major issue. One thing stood out. There was very little talk about “other sources of revenue” needed. You know, the old more taxes will solve too many taxes ploy we put up with for years at meetings like this in the PAST.
The new taxpayer group went right at the problems in town head on with well written articles, a web site, meetings, getting people run for office, and making sensible arguments about reducing spending.
But at the subsequent meetings of the school district and town not much changed dollar wise. Or so you would think.
At an early taxpayer meeting I went to in Hopkinton the new Hopkinton School District Superintendent was sitting in the back of the room. He had a “plan” for about $15 million in school construction if I remember correctly. You could see the blood drain from his face as he watched the new tax group hold their meeting. It was apparent no construction bond was going anywhere. You need to understand that School Superintendents are measured on their ability to pass construction bonds as much as a football coach is required to win games.
Game over new guy! No construction bond made the school district warrant. And just as the school lobby surmised, it would have been blown out of the north east and into the Atlantic, taking with it the school board's operational budget. Which by the way did not make it. Voters went with the budget committee proposal for the first time in memory.
One selectman, Don Lane, also know as “Mr. Tin Ear” lost the Chairman of the Board's selectman seat for Louise Carr by taking editorial stands such as this in the local pulp media:
“Now comes a small group of people who want to redesign Hopkinton. Twenty-two people who make up the core of the Taxpayers Association, driven by the misconception that the tax burden is greater here than anywhere else, want to do away with many of the investments the people of Hopkinton have made in their community. Proposals and petitions have been put forth that will:
• Impose the SB 2 structure. SB 2 puts a straitjacket on town and school management, guarantees that control falls into the hands of small regressive groups and inhibits any effort to improve town or school services.
• Rescind the open space article passed in 2003. Recognizing that the town was in the crosshairs of an expanding Route 93, the people passed an article directing the town to buy open land. The six parcels acquired so far were located in various parts of town and were usually adjuncts to existing open tracts. Four of the six enjoyed "bargain sale" characteristics, saving the town $488,000. Besides preserving the rural nature of the community, the purchases offer wonderful views and hiking trails.
• Sell Columbia Hall. The struggle to address the needs of our senior population has been difficult. The culmination came when someone burned down the unfinished Slusser Center as a symbol of resistance to taxation. (Ironically, there is no tax money being used to build the Slusser Center).”
Well Mr. Tin Ear's Selectman Chairman was showen the door by voters who were smart enough to know that taxpayers will have to fund the senior center no matter who BUILT it. An article for $12,000.00 was on the ballot.
Had the school lobby put a bond on the ballot, SB2, secret ballot voting” would have passed for the school. It did garner a slim majority and more votes than it has in the past.
I think though the most revealing part of the story is how the Concord paper, which considers Hopkinton a jewel in its tax and spend crown, dares not MENTION the above facts, or even the name of the taxpayer group.
You see, during the run-up to the annual meetings an arson burned down the partially constructed a senior center voters turned down but selectmen built anyway with donated funds. The tax and spenders and the Concord teacher tabloid thought the taxpayer group would be blamed.
Not even a whisper of blame followed. The Hopkinton Contoocook Taxpayers Association were instead judged for their hard work at informing taxpayers of issues in town and with the school.
Something the selectmen never did.