Fellow citizens, distinguished guests, colleagues, friends, welcome to 2013 annual town meeting. You came tonight—not to miss the Red Sox continue to slump, though that reason has its merits—but because you care enough about your town to take part in its government. Democracy guarantees us the right to participate in the running of our government, but it also burdens us with a responsibility to be informed, decide on what we think is best, and most importantly, show up. By being here tonight, you are serving your community and yourselves.
The sentence “May you live in interesting times” was once said to be a Chinese curse. The origins of those words are under dispute, but, like it or not, we are cursed to live in interesting times. The world, not just Granby, Massachusetts, or the United States, is in a depression, a prolonged economic downturn that is making life difficult for us. A poor economy means lower tax revenue and less money for our town. Our fiscal problems, however, are not merely economic. In the late 1990s, we decided to cut the taxes at the state level. Our income tax rate was reduced almost 1 percentage point. Capital gains taxes were slashed by more than70%, and the personal tax exemption was doubled. The result is an annual loss of $3.8 billion in revenue for the Commonwealth. As a result of these factors, aid to cities and towns, also known as Chapter 70 funds, has dropped by 46%. Granby has a revenue problem, but a major cause of that problem the Commonwealth’s revenue problem. There is no way Granby or scores of other communities across the Commonwealth can ever make up for the decrease in state aid. Cities and towns cannot raise enough revenue on their own. It doesn’t take a village; it takes a Commonwealth.
In spite of our financial situation, Granby has continued to make progress, most concretely in our town buildings. Ten years ago, we were cramming our highway department into a crumbling cinderblock building; five years ago, our police department was housed in a former dinosaur museum that was outdated, unhealthy, and didn’t even belong to us. Our general government may be housed in two locations, but our office workers no longer work in unhealthy, inaccessible conditions where the wind blows through the closed windows and record-seekers need hazmat suits to access records. Our seniors no longer play cards in a building held up with two-by-fours, house jacks, and wishful thinking. They no longer contend with a periodically polluted water supply and failing septic system.
Five months from now, our library, which, for almost 100 years, has been housed in a lovely, but completely unsuitable Greek revival building gifted to the town by the philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie and the hard work of our Granby forebearers. In ten years, Granby will have replaced all of its municipal buildings without relying on a property tax override or the money spent on department operations.
That’s progress–and it didn’t come easy. It was decades in the making. It took countless hours of work by appointed and elected members of our community. There were steps forward and steps backward, but in the end, we moved forward. Without the good decision-making of town meeting, we would not have accomplished this monumental feat. At the end of Fiscal Year 2013, the Town of Granby has much to be proud of.
In comparison to the last ten years, this year’s accomplishments have been relatively modest. We have completed the purchase of 150 acres of land by Forge Pond. With the help of grants and the generosity of Joseph Partyka, the cost was modest, and this open space will now remain open forever. In conjunction with The MacDuffie School, we are currently evaluating a proposal to bring in sewer from Belchertown. Costs may turn out to be prohibitive, but because there are issues with septic at the high school and East Meadow campus, we have yet to eliminate it as an option.
As part of the ongoing effort to improve the running of our town government, we have created and appointed a new committee to oversee all of our public parks, and athletic fields. In the future, we hope to bring forward a bylaw change that would replace the Recreation Commission with a Parks and Recreation Commission. We are also asking voters to change the treasurer position from elected to appointed and looking at financial services with the schools.
After Kellogg Hall was closed, we wanted to make sure the plaques commemorating our veterans were preserved. Our town administrator floated the idea of creating a Veterans Park on the Aldrich Hall property. As a result, we appointed a committee that is now working hard to develop a memorial. The plaques once situated in town hall, now in storage, will eventually be displayed there with more added to commemorate those who have served since the 1960s.
In the next year, we face some prominent financial challenges. Waste Management has told us that our dump will close in December. To the best of our knowledge, this date is real. Based on previous discussions with Waste Management, the possibility of continuing our current drop off seems unlikely, but we will explore that option along with town-wide and private pickup. This morning we received an invitation to join a consortium of communities to leverage our bargaining power. For the record: Granby neither owns the landfill or the land on which it is located. We receive tipping fees a host community. Once the landfill closes, those fees and our cheap place to dump will be gone.
At our last town meeting, we voted to file special legislation to remove 140 residences from South Hadley’s Fire District 2. It’s unlikely that town meeting would have taken this drastic measure, or that the affected Granby residents would have requested help, had it not been for the state of democracy in Fire District 2. Taxation without representation, as we know, is illegal, but taxation without good representation is a major problem in Fire District 2. The Prudential Committee of Fire District 2 has operated in a bubble, raising fire taxes by 78%. If the Granby select board had the authority to raise taxes beyond 2 ½ percent without the consent of the Granby voters, and if we raised taxes by 78%, the best that would happen is that we wouldn’t be re-elected. Fire Districts, however, can increase taxes by more 2½ percent. Taxes, however, are only the symptom of a system that has outlived its usefulness for Granby citizens. The disease is poor government. The Prudential Committee, and the coterie of South Hadley people who run the district, may refer to the “Granby issue,” but the problem is Prudential Committee. And the issue is good governance. Town government in Granby is not perfect, but it is accountable. You know where we meet. You know where to find our agenda. You can watch us on television after we meet. On taxation, you, not us, have the last word. Granby residents in Fire District 2 deserve effective, accountable governance, and responsible taxation, and unfortunately, that means trying to dissolve a 100 year-old relationship.
Let me warn you now, I’m going to use an f-word when I refer to Granby’s next project. You’ll be asked to vote on this f-word in October or November. I think we’d all rather chew glass than pay for another study of a building, but when it comes to large state grants, we don’t make the rules. The MSBA has invited us to the first stage of the school building process for West Street School. We’ve appointed a school building committee that will convene soon. That committee will do the preliminary work to renovate or replace West Street School. When this work is complete, town meeting will decide deciding whether or not to enter the feasibility study phase of the process. We will do our utmost to keep the Town in the loop, so when we come before you this autumn, you have everything you need to make an informed decision.
Well, that’s about it. If you have questions, please feel free to come up after the meeting.