The Merrimack Town council sent Mike Malzone’s motion to put a spending cap charter amendment on the ballot down in flames. With a vote of 6 to 1 against, with only Councilor Malzone in favor, the councilors made it known that they were uncomfortable with the language, and were not certain it would be any better than what amounted in their opinion to a town that had already demonstrated responsible spending habits.
The course of the debate was predictable. What good would it do for the council to embrace a cap when the School board and school budget could blow the entire project out of the water? There were comments that the cap was not adequately tested and some general concern over how the board might look every time they needed to execute the majority rule to override the cap for emergency spending measures.
So if the town is so responsible what risk is there in a spending cap tied to cost of living increases? I don’t recall anyone asking that question, not even me.
There was no request for public comment prior to the vote, and when I tried to request an opportunity to speak as the vote was completed I was denied.
While the issue was important the chairman might have proved that by remembering to follow procedure prior to voting. It should be pointed out that no one else on the council noticed the absence of public comment, they just voted.
I did get to speak at the end of the meeting, when open public comment can be submitted for the record.
I made a point to remind them that they did not request public comments before the vote. I explained that there is an adequate history of how spending caps affect towns and cities in New Hampshire; that none of the towns including Franklin, Derry, Dover, Laconia or Nashua—several of whom have had caps for years—have suffered from any of the problems that they suggested as reasons to vote against putting it on the ballot. And most importantly, that every level governments first obligation is to control it’s spending, and to favor policies that make sure government spending does not exceed the ability of the tax payers to fund it.
At least that’s what it was supposed to sound like. I was a bit hoarse, and a little nervous. I'm a writer not a speaker so it’ll probably sound horrible on cable access; I can’t wait. One other person spoke in favor, and one against.
After the meeting a few folks introduced themselves. One asked me to run for office—any office—this April. I was flattered but that's a story for another day. Another wanted to know what services I would cut if the cap went into place. While my response was not eloquent it was simple. I do not believe the spending cap would require us to cut any services—and that people more qualified than me knew that.
In hindsight there are plenty of things I should have said, but none of them would have changed the vote. For now, we have several hundred signatures to collect and very little time to do it.