Is Bennington facing its own fiscal cliff? With the pending infrastructure needs that must be dealt with in the next year, the high salaries at the town hall and the rising school budgets, how can our financial future not be in peril? I don't mean to sound to like doom and gloom.
Hopefully, the sun will always shine on Bennington. But as a realist and an independent thinker, I believe it's time to face these issues. The Select Board does not seem to want to face the reality. Sometimes I wonder if they're even able to realize that a financial crisis may be looming. I fear that the root of the problem may be that fact that a Select Board can only react to what is presented to it, and not take an active role in steering the community. That, however, is a topic for another column.
For some, last year's property taxes went up about $400. How much will they go up this year? My complaint with our form of government is that we are always reacting to circumstances instead of pro-actively creating our future. Budget discussions for both the town and the school board are coming, and we can't afford to kick the can down road again.
We as voters will be able to accept the town and school budgets, or maybe it's time to reject those budgets to send a message that we the people can't afford wasteful spending or missed opportunities to grow our town and tax base. It is the responsibility of the town government to bring in new tax revenues.
As you all know, the owner of the old Johnson Controls property wanted to be able to change the zoning there to bring new business to Bennington. That has been rejected by the majority of our Select Board. I was disappointed in that because the Select Board has not brought any new ideas to the people of Bennington to grow our economy. I say it is time to look at who we have on our Select Board.
Isn't it time in next year's election to replace a few members? Hopefully, new candidates from the business community who are pro-smart growth in Bennington will get on the Select Board to help change the direction and the thinking our governing institution. The people of Bennington have a chance to choose between what we have now and always have had, or to choose a future with more jobs, more growth and a growing tax base.
I don't believe Bennington can keep the quality of life it has if we're always standing at the edge of the fiscal cliff. Even if we bite the bullet and use the town's bonding authority for all of our expenses, how can we possibly pay for those bonds if we don't grow Bennington's grand list?
The changes I would like to see include more pro-growth members on the Select Board, select a dedicated business recruiter from our town staff, more flexibility in zoning changes to help businesses relocate here, and more cooperation between all of the town's institutions, such as the schools, the colleges, the business community and our town government.
If we can start making these changes, we can start to create the future of our community. This, I think we can all agree, will give us more control over what Bennington will become. It is better to shape our future to what we want to see than to spend our time, energy, and resources constantly reacting to changes that are beyond our control.
Mike Bethel lives in Bennington.