ORLEANS — You'd hardly have known from the selectmen's discussion last week on raising revenues that a revenue committee created by town meeting spent many months looking at that very question. The committee had its differences with the board, and even with town meeting, which approved some of its initiatives and passed by others.
John Laurino, chair of the now-defunct committee, watched the Nov. 28 selectmen's session on video and emailed comments to The Chronicle. He was pleased by the board's “on-the-record acknowledgment that we are facing a freight train of substantial tax increases...mostly fueled by the deferred capital project commitments that are now entering the budget as interest and principal payments.”
But Laurino was disappointed to “see the discussion rebooted when you don't start with the 1,000 man-hours the town meeting approved/moderator-appointed revenue committee invested in comprehensively examining Orleans's revenue opportunities... and the clear, well-researched, and evidence-based recommendations that effort produced.”
(The committee's single success to date was town meeting's agreement in May to accept state law that allows the creation of enterprise funds. Communities use such funds to support designated activities through user charges and fees. But voters said no to the follow-on step of allowing annual votes on such funds outside of the general operating budget. Town meeting also turned down the committee's call for an annual review of all user fees, permits and licenses with the eventual goal of having them cover all direct and indirect costs.)
The town, Laurino wrote, is “under-performing” in generating revenue from current and new user fees and grants, “the only three places to focus outside of the property tax.” Grants, he wrote, “are the single largest void. Orleans is virtually absent from the federal grant arena while peer towns average $750,000 annually. And grants are connected to fees. A $20 per season resident beach sticker would not only help plug the current deficit but allow Orleans to pursue nearly $5 million in coastal management grants from the state.”
Laurino wrote that “incremental steps” by selectmen, such as a beach sticker, could improve things at the margins. “But similar to how the past boards of selectmen have historically approached capital expenditures, you get a marginal result from marginal pursuits...which end up costing Orleans more in the end. Just reducing the budget liability for running the beaches is not enough to solve the problem.”
So what's his solution? “One way or the other Orleans will enact most if not all of the recommendations made by the revenue committee,” Laurino predicted. “A broad and comprehensive approach is the only way to avoid the alternative...which is systemic reduction in people-based services.”
Taxpayers “should take our medicine all at once and restore Orleans to better fiscal health faster,” Laurino wrote. Implementing the committee's recommendations “will take both a concerted and confident effort to explain the urgency to the voters as well as significant political leadership.”