The proverb “talk is cheap” is more than 150 year old. It should be familiar to we New Englanders. The expression can be found in a 1843 fiction entitled Attache, written by T. C. Halliburton, whose Yankee character Sam Slick encouraged a minister to “[t]alk to these friends of ourn, they might think you considerable starch if you don’t talk, and talk is cheap.”
These days, not only is political talk cheap but it is also unreliable, perhaps more unreliable than at any other time in American history. Increasingly you are better off ignoring what a politician says and just paying attention to her or his actions. And one of the easiest actions to track involves money.
For example, over the past year East Lyme has multiplied the facilities cost of one public service by at least 250,0000. I would guess that this ranks among the largest municipal service cost increase in the state of CT and perhaps even New England. This may seem implausible to you. But our police are currently in a building which we lease for $1 a year. And we have taken out a $5 million loan to buy a building which is currently empty. Paying the principle on that loan over 20 years would require a payment of $250,000 per year. If you add interest the cost is even higher. And our “Vision Committee” has an architectural plan which involves turning this cost explosion into an atom bomb by more than doubling the budget for renovating the building.
So it is fair to say that our town leadership has a passion, bordering on obsession, with spending more money on buildings housing certain services. But is this money wisely spent? Buildings don’t deliver services. Town employees do. With more than $250,000 per year how many additional officers could we have hired to patrol our streets and ensure our safety? Has our crime rate increased by a factor of 250,000? I’m fairly certain it hasn’t. In other words, none of this additional expenditure is going to make an actual difference in East Lyme’s public safety. It is a vanity project.
Let’s compare the boondoggle building expenditure to education spending in East Lyme. There, the budget increased by a meager 3.19%. This included a reduction of employees in seven staff positions, three paraprofessional positions, and the Director of Technology position for the school district. Two school buses were cut. As our superintendent of schools noted “we are surviving, not thriving.” And all of this occurred with an increase in the size of the student body, one which is projected to continue. So our school children are receiving less by way of our educational system.
It is also worth noting that the law enforcement fetish of our town leadership has begun to encroach on the education budget, with a request for $116,557 for additional security measures in our schools. If we hadn’t allocated $5M for an empty building we could have covered the security measures involving our schools and saved money in the process.
East Lyme taxpayers are paying more taxes to our town government. Our mill rate increase has exceeded the rate of inflation in Connecticut. But we are not getting more educational services or public safety services for that money. In fact, we are getting less as a consequence of irresponsible expenditures on a vanity police building. With the upcoming election this is a pattern taxpayers should take note of and decide if this is what they want for their future and the future of East Lyme children. We should heed Maya Angelou’s advice, “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”