We hear this so many times when it comes to capital acquisitions, budgeting, manpower requests and the like that we wonder if anybody is truly managing the town! We hear the philosophy of letting the experts do their job and “telling us what they need “ and that is fine to a point, but taken literally it can be seen as an abdication of the Board of Selectmen’s responsibilities to the Town of Hampton taxpayers. The Board of Selectmen are supposed to assure the prudent spending of taxpayer monies and to uphold the fiduciary responsibilities the voters have placed in their hands. The Town manager, who is paid at last count in excess of $110,000 /year, appears to simply reflect what the Department heads say they need with little if any reduction. We question and ask what role he plays in the budget process? Going back 5 years and more one can see that the money difference as to what the department heads submit to him and what he submits to the Selectman reflects very little, if any, reduction!! We think that politics plays more of a role here than management (the go along to get along philosophy of a politician seeking longevity).
Selectmen then review the individual budgets or capital requests before they submit the Budget and Capital requests (warrant articles) to the Budget committee. What is prevalent in much of this conversation is the comment “Let the experts tell us what they need to do their job”. Comment after comment is more “thank you for the job you do” There is little evidence of analysis and serious push back on their part and the Budget rolls forward to the Budget committee!
We accept that the individual department heads have the Technical skills and abilities to perform their jobs. There is no question for instance that when it comes to putting out fires or carrying out their paramedic duties or other life saving measures the Fire department has the required skills to do so. Likewise for the Police Dept. who enforce our laws, control crowds and get into drug and other investigations and assure the town is kept safe among other things and the Public works dept. that assures that the wastewater treatment plant is properly run so that we meet State and Federal specifications, drive large vehicles (requiring commercial driver’s licenses) to sand and remove snow as well as pick up the trash and recycles and repair water and sewer lines as needed. All of the above require unique skills obtainable only through their respective academies, achieved education, extensive training and or years of experience that utilizes their skills, abilities and aptitudes. We understand this and for the most part (and there are exceptions), and in general, do not challenge their performance in performing their job functions. Where we have a problem is their money, management!
In Budget committee review sessions very pointed questions cannot be answered! Maintenance records and associated costs are not readily available yet requests for Fire pumper trucks (approx. $600,000 each) or Dept. of public works replacement vehicles ($353,000 in 2016) are made. Its absolutely embarrassing! All they say is that they are old or rusty and need replacing and they have had some repairs of late! They present little facts to support their requests! Question them on their utility costs for electricity and they will tell you that they are supplied by the Finance Director. Ask about why certain line items that have not been charged for years and they will tell you that the charges “must have been misallocated to another line item” (year after year??). Certain budgets that are being presented as flat never get adjusted for line items that proverbially are underspent. How about the 20% beach revenues directed to the Recreation department for “infrastructure usage purposes via an approved warrant article” yet playground and skate board upgrades and improvements are not considered “infrastructure”! They are considered “expense items” by the Director that taxpayers have to fund!! Something is wrong here. We are looking for accountability!! If you submit a budget you own every line item in that budget and should be able to talk to it masterfully and such is not the case! We submit that the Budget is not ready when it is submitted to the Budget committee and the Budget committee is then burdened to correct it while they face significant time constraints and incomplete or incorrect analysis (year after year). Taxpayers ultimately pay the price for this kind of work while Town management continues to build significant unassigned fund balances with the unspent money from the respective fiscal year. This essentially means that budgeting was not done in a prudent fashion! Does anybody care? Is this the culture of Municipal Government? Is this what Hampton taxpayers want or expect or don’t they care?? I can tell you this, that this kind of Budget presentation would never ever make it in the business world and those that would try to sell it would last no longer than 1 year if they made it that far! Hampton citizens wake up! Vote on candidates that represent you and your expectations and that have demonstrated fiscal competence not catchy slogans or you will pay $$$ dearly!!! Just watch you tax bills!!!!