By Ben Oleksinski
The idea came from Town Manager Sarah Stanton and her desire to cast a critical eye over just what the town is spending and why. Her concept was to do away with the Capital Expenditure Committee (currently staffed by voter volunteers) and bring its functions into the town departments. The new Committee would aim to provide greater levels of transparency, oversight, and scrutiny. Vetting would have been managed by department heads, Selectmen, and Town Manager. A pilot program, the specifics of which were not yet drafted, was also suggested.
An Internal Capital Investment Committee was met with mixed feedback from members of the Capital Expenditure Committee and warm reception from the Finance Committee.
The notion of having different governing bodies to come together, judge the appropriateness of projects, and make a decision for capital planning could be seen as an evolution of the Committee. Finding a middle ground between these aspirational goals and the realities of the town, however, was another matter.
Ultimately, the Selectmen saw a change for Capital Expenditure as an impressive idea. It would, however, be quite a large task to take on at this time. Further, it might not have been the best possible answer to the questions of efficiency and redundancy raised by Stanton.
Despite not moving forward with the proposal, the Selectmen noted its merits.
Members stated they are open to a revised process but want to find the means to make a more incremental change over time and put capital expenditure in its proper, more useful place.
Deliberations then shifted to a larger discussion of checks and balances for the town, including reasons why we have a Charter in place, to begin with.
What the Selectmen’s decision reflected, the difficulty they had therein, wasn’t whether or not they respected a new idea. Rather, it opened the dialogue about how to move forward to a position where staff has more financial and budgeting expertise. Such proposals need to satisfy the needs and concerns of the community, ensuring the stability of process and value of consensus. While the initial proposal was dismissed, we might expect to see a new iteration in the future.