Opinion: A fifty-year horizon?

Feb 27, 2024

To the editor:

On February 26, the Town presented a draft proposal on its “first” Long-Range Capital Planning exercise. There is absolutely nothing wrong with planning ahead, and as Shawn McDonald stated, we would be remiss if we didn’t do it. But a fifty-year horizon? 

From this observer, with the town’s day-to-day management of services “going to hell in a handbasket,” it’s clear to me that, for example, the building department operations, has a “snowball’s chance in hell” of getting better any time soon. Instead, the Select Board is looking ahead 50 years. Is the hiring of qualified and experienced staff to run the day-to-day not sexy enough? 

It makes more sense to show an immediate and 5, 10, 15-year horizon since some of the initiatives have a sense of urgency attached and taxpayers need to know what to expect. The laundry list presented wasn’t even prioritized, although hard to discern. The proposed recreation center was given the same priority as the most fundamental of needs. Now there’s a “new” Memorial Stadium? What happened to the approved upgrades to the present one? Did the Town’s Master Plan figure into this process?

According to the Town Administrator, as noted in Dartmouth Week’s article, “the town may only build some of these projects, MacInnes said, but the long range plan shows that it’s possible to build them all, and provides a framework for how the town would do so….If the town were to fund every one of these projects, the average tax bill for residents would rise by nearly $1000 over the next 20 years, then decrease again as the debt expires.” If this long-range plan is a legacy to the children of this town who hope to live here if they can afford it, think about that debt left to them, never mind fixed-income seniors. 

The Town Administrator messaged to the public that these projects “can be done.” This from someone who lives on Cape Cod and pays no taxes to the Town. Well, anything can be done especially if someone else will pay for it. I can’t help but wonder why the Select Board allowed a 50-year horizon presentation, rather than offering a much more realistic view of our needs. Public input is part of this exercise and let’s hope they get it. 

With the unanimous renewal of the Town Administrator’s contract conveniently approved prior to the Select Board election, we may be in for a “wash, rinse, and repeat” cycle for the next three years.  

I’m told there’s no way to determine the viewership stats of Select Board meetings––my guess is low––so I urge residents to watch the February 26 meeting on YouTube. Getting informed should be your priority if you wish to live comfortably in this Town given your own long-range planning.

Diane Gilbert, Dartmouth