Vox Clamantis In Deserto. That is the motto of a small Indian school in Hanover, N.H., with which I am reasonably familiar. I think of it now and again, especially around this time of year. Why? It is time for Andover’s Annual Town Meeting. Talk about one crying in the wilderness, our Andover Town Meeting meets all the specs. On an opening night — usually the best attended — we get about 800 folks. That is less than 4 percent of the voting population of Andover (about 22,000) — and that’s a good night.
This week, the final vote on the fiscal budget was approved by less than 400 voters. It is a quite an experience for those attending to spend $150,000.00 of mostly other folks’ cash — that’s more than $1 million dollars a minute. Or looking at it another way — those 400 voters each spent $375,000 of your money — and 21,600 of you were not there.
The ATM is a unique New England tradition and a real democratic (note small “d”) exercise. To be meaningful, however, to those concerned — you, all the taxpayers/voters of Andover — it must be attended. Is it fun? Not really, but there is a lot to be learned about where your money goes and you are certainly entitled to know about and care about that. Many folks who do attend are there to spend for things they want; they have an agenda. A sidewalk here, a fire engine there, a playground, extra folks to hire, a fire station, a new Town Yard — these things all have a price tag attached that you ought to see before you buy.
Come on down and learn for yourself why a 2 1/2-percent increase is seldom 2 1/2 percent. Learn about free cash that is not free. Understand levy limit and overrides and what they do to your future tax bill. Discover that debt exclusion does not mean it is not to be paid. There is a whole new vocabulary called “tax speak.” You owe it to yourselves to learn to speak it — fluently!