OP-ED: We Can and Will Thrive with a Little Less

By John Stefanini

FRAMINGHAM – As the youngest of five boys in a large working class family — my father was a stonemason and my mother was a nurse — we did not always have what we wanted, but always had what we needed. In good economic times we travelled and in bad times we camped, visited relatives, and national parks. It was a treat to celebrate a birthday at a restaurant. But we always had each other’s love, a shared meal, a book to read, and clothes to wear … and we never spent money we did not have.

Likewise, we live in a wonderful community with thoughtful neighbors, dedicated teachers, firefighters, librarians, and police officers. Our places of worship, community organizations, local businesses, and neighborhood associations are vibrant. We live, work, learn, and play in a great community.

Make no mistake, we are living in challenging times. We will need to reduce some of our wants, stand up to injustice, keep our physical distance from each other, and wear face coverings in public, but we will continue to thrive and remain strong. 

To do so we must embrace our core values, acknowledge the realities around us, speak candidly with each other, creatively adapt, and collectively act. We have done this before and we will do it yet again. Now more than ever we need to focus on the things that bind us together and not let the things that divide us pull us apart. We need to hear the voices of our family, friends, and neighbors, and ignore the sirens of the muckrakers.

In our municipal government, that means we need to live within our means, listen carefully to the cries of injustice, assist our neighbors and local businesses in need, and reflect on our priorities. Over the past decade our $300 million plus budget has grown in good times to give us our wants, but now in declining economic times needs to focus more on our essential needs: good schools, safe neighborhoods, clean streets, and vibrant commerce centers.

Mayor Spicer’s budget is not balanced. It relies on one-time revenues and revenue estimates that we have been told directly will not materialize. It proposes spending more next year than this year. We simply cannot spend funds that we do not have.

Every dollar we spend in deficit this year requires us to cut two dollars next year and three the year after. Said differently, eliminating one administrative position this year saves two direct service providers this year, four next year and six the year after. A “wait and see” approach that delays these difficult decisions increases exponentially the number of tough choices to be made. 

It will not be easy, but working together in a transparent process guided by our collective values, we will more than meet our needs by trimming administrative overhead, consolidating like-functions, adopting best practices from other communities, and finding creative solutions. The hundreds of positions we have added over the past decade is a good place to look. The changes proposed by the Finance Committee are a good start, but more still needs to be done.

What we cannot do is eliminate direct service providers: teachers, firefighters, trash collectors, police officers, librarians, and the like. What is clear, is we cannot keep doing business as usual. We should start with the Charter’s recommendations from three years ago to reorganize departments, consolidate overlapping functions, conduct a performance audit, adopt best practices followed by other communities, and utilize technology to create greater efficiencies. An early retirement program could be helpful in humanely making these transitions.

These are challenging times for all of us and also for our municipal government. Just like our own households, we need to appreciate and focus on all the good people and things around us. Postponing some of our wants will ensure our essential needs are met. Together, we can and will continue to thrive.

John A. Stefanini, a former state representative and selectman, and the Framingham District 8 Councilor, can be reached at Stefanini143@gmail.com

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