EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


December 3, 2013

Editorial: City must stop spending what it doesn't have

If Methuen’s leaders want to keep their promises to taxpayers, Mayor Stephen Zanni and the City Council cannot continue to spend money the city does not have.

When Zanni proposed his $145.3 million budget for the city in June, the mayor said the fiscal package should result in about a $100 increase in property taxes for the average homeowner. The City Council cut just $189,848 from the spending plan, resulting in a $145.2 million budget.

But now, Methuen is in a fiscal bind. The city received $1 million less in state funding that it expected and now, without cuts, the average homeowner faces a tax increase of $194. The city could offset the increase somewhat by taking money from reserves, softening the hit on the average homeowner to $137.

Hitting the $100 average tax increase promised in June would require a budget cut of $705,000, or about 3.5 percent across the board, Zanni said. That would mean laying off two dozen fire, police and public works employees, the mayor warned. The cuts would likely fall as follows: nine laborers from the DPW, eight patrolmen and seven firefighters.

This predicament is the inevitable result of poor fiscal planning.

Individual families face unexpected revenue shortfalls all the time. Furloughs, accidents, family emergencies all can hit families in their pocketbooks. Most have some savings to cushion the blow. Those who live paycheck to paycheck simply must get by with less.

But such harsh discipline does not apply to municipal leaders. They have the power to compel residents to pay them what they need in taxes, up to the limits set by laws like Proposition 2 1/2. Don’t like it? Tough. Refuse to pay? Fine, enjoy this lovely tax lien. Collect enough liens and kiss your home good-bye.

So a virtually bottomless pocketbook allows municipal leaders to hand out other people’s money freely, rewarding those they feel “do a good job” without thought to where they will find the cash to pay for these promises.

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