Amid the recent chaos on Council—Ron Kore’s conduct while visibly ill, Lisa Haun’s muzzling meltdown—it is nice to report some good news for a change. Last year, the Town managed to run a nearly $1 million surplus in its annual budget, marking somewhat of a return to financial stability after years of uncertainty. With tax revenue unexpectedly high and operating savings found at the MCC—much credit for this going to the dogged persistence of Councillor Bob Hildebrandt— the Town’s cash balances grew solidly last year. What’s more, the debt came to be a little more under control, even if the outlook still isn’t ideal.
Town staff, especially Treasurer Teresa Quinlin, Assistant Treasurer Charlotte Tunikaitis, and CAO David Cribbs, deserve credit for carrying out policies that made the turnaround possible.
There has been a small but vocal undercurrent of anti-staff sentiment among the farther-right fringes in recent years, a toxic froth that bubbled over during the 2018 election in some campaigns, and which appears to have continued percolating in a minority of councillors’ guts over the last 18 months.
This needs to stop.
Town of Pelham staff, particularly at the senior level, have several decades of experience among them. These are professionals who carry out the tasks assigned to them to the best of their abilities. They are simply doing their jobs, carrying out the will of council and the Mayor, and deserve to be treated with respect.
Speaking of whom, Mayor Marvin Junkin deserves some credit as well: his campaign platform revolved around financial prudence, and after a year and a half on the job he is making good on this promise. The Town’s previous administration claimed, with scant credibility, that money would start pouring in to dig the Town out of the MCC money pit. But it was always going to take new, more transparent leadership to put new policies into place to address Pelham’s financial peril.
Case in point is one of the Junkin-led council’s first actions—the cancellation of the Station Street roundabout. While the former CAO and mayor persisted, for unclear reasons, in trying to build the roundabout, the new administration cancelled the plan, immediately saving $800,000 dollars. Only when you can admit the mistakes that left you in the red can you turn around and start heading for the black.
(On sensible traffic management, look for the Haist chicane to be history any week now.)
Junkin and council also established new committees to oversee most aspects of Town spending. The results have been rewarding, particularly those coming from the Utility Sustainability Committee.
Still, the pandemic’s impact on Town finances is a sobering reminder of our situation. With revenues projected to fall several hundred thousand dollars, if not more, 2020 could well wipe out much of the progress made last year. And with a recession—if not depression—looming, all the counted-on development revenues remain far from a sure bet. More belt-tightening, and higher taxes all around, are almost certainly on the horizon for the foreseeable future. ◆