Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Town and country meetings

On successive nights this week, I attended meetings of the non-profit variety. It's fun, although probably not profound, to compare them

Monday night saw the annual town meeting of Owls Head at the Community Center. There were maybe 70 attendees out of a population of 1,580.  None of the 33 articles in the warrant were contentious. Only a few were even slightly amended. Judging by the suppportive comments made about the proposed exemption from vehicle excise taxes for active duty military personnel, the audience was patriotic, perhaps largely conservative. Interestingly (at least I thought so), of the five most important town officials (three selectmen, one town clerk/tax assessor, and one treasurer) four are women. There are a few paid staff, but much work is done by volunteers.

The affairs of the town have largely to do with money. We rely almost entirely (94%) on property taxes for revenue. Most of the budget (73%) is expended for the schools. The town has 260 children under 18 (I looked it up on the 2010 census), so it spends $10,000 per kid. (I did the same calculation for my other home of Newton, MA, and it is also about $10,000. Odd?). Total real estate in town is valued at $350 million.

All facts and figures, all the reports from animal control and care for the poor and library and roads commissioner, and the seven dry, form letters from our state and federal senators and representatives are in the extensive, 100-page annual report. Even though one gets the feeling that all real news has already happened behind the scenes, yet it's clear that one or two stalwart opponents could wreak some havoc at town meeting if they wanted to. The open publication of information is very powerful.

Then last night I went to the annual membership meeting of Coastal Mountains Land Trust, out in the country at the Tranquility Grange in Lincolnville. The percentage of attendance was about the same - about 50 people out of membership of 1,200. This meeting had very little to do with money (although money lurks behind everything we do, and we have considerable reserves), and the audience was largely conservative in the other sense of the word. Like the town, we have a few paid staff and much work is done by volunteers.

Very little business was transacted at the meeting, except the election of new Board Directors. The agenda was half a page. Much good will was exchanged, and our many successes were celebrated. Board members brought refreshments.

I draw no conclusions from this comparison, except that both bodies are healthy and active and in good financial shape. Huzzah for these two great American traditions, one very old, one quite new. May they both remain faithful stewards of  land and water and people's lives.

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