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As a selectman in Essex, I’m often asked how our town’s budget development process can happen every year without the divisiveness and discord that characterize the process in many towns in our state.
My answer includes three key factors. First, even though Essex is composed of folks with differing views on a range of issues, our budget process happens without a political overlay. When it comes to managing the town’s money, our track record reinforces confidence in the non-partisan stewardship of our elected officials.
Next, we manage our finances to eliminate surprises. A finance professional monitors town expenditures every day. That’s why the budget numbers that are the foundation of our annual planning process (including school budgets) are current, accurate, and projectable. We start each fiscal year confident that our budgets have integrity.
Third, the Board of Selectmen (which develops every detail of the annual budget) and the Board of Finance (which approves all town expenditures and sets the mil rate), work closely together. On both boards, Democrats and Republicans carefully review each proposed expenditure. We develop near-term and long-term expenditure perspectives, and make provisions to mitigate the impact of anticipated large expenditures down the road.
Does it work? Absolutely. Folks in our town recognize that their elected officials are managing their money responsibly. They recognize that our budget process is free of partisan paralysis, and they like the fact that our property tax rate is among the lowest in the state. (This year, we enacted yet another property tax decrease.)
There is no magic in the Essex budget development process. It’s all about attention to detail and non-partisan cooperation. I’m proud to play a role in a process that has such a significant impact on the quality of life in our town.
Selectman Stacia Libby
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