Another budget vote at Tiverton’s financial town referendum (FTR) has come and gone, and another elector petition with a tax increase with a zero in front of the decimal point has won. Counting the second, lower-tax elector petition on the ballot, this year, the split is more or less the same as in prior years, indicating that, at the current level of taxation, not more than 40% of voters are willing to go up much more.
But election analysis, like holding people accountable for their behavior during the campaign, can wait for a bit. This morning, my mind’s lingering on a higher-level, more-philosophical point.
Just before the vote, a friend commented on the melancholy sense that driving into town after work gave him. Looking at the beautiful place in which we get to live, he thought about how pleasant it would be not constantly to be watching out for the intrusions of a manipulated government into our lives — that is, if government undertook limited activities, the effort to patrol its actions were widely dispersed, and people with authority generally agreed on their boundaries. I hear similar statements, but reversed, from friends who move to more-conservative states about how nice it is to live under a government that is properly ordered.
I’ve long intended to write an essay using two one-town islands as an analogy. New Shoreham is a municipal entity in Rhode Island, but most people are more familiar with the land that it governs: Block Island. Another large island in the state is Conanicut Island, but people are generally more familiar with its own municipal entity, Jamestown.
How people refer colloquially to geographic areas is typically a matter of historical accident, but the contrast in this case has always struck me. What my friend was saying, basically, is that he would prefer if we thought of ourselves as living in Sakonnet, an area in which some basic services are partially handled by the municipal entity of Tiverton.
The people who oppose my friends’ activities in town no doubt have a similar feeling that the lack of harmony diminishes their sense of the town, and ultimately, a town of 15,000-16,000 people can accommodate divergent worldviews… except for one complication. The irreconcilable problem is that one faction in town sees no meaningful distinction between the town government and their concept of “the community.”
Going through the budget, I see expenditures for things to which I would gladly donate more money, if asked, than whatever portion of my taxes goes to them, but some people in town think the community’s responsibility isn’t just to find a way to support such charities, but to force everybody to pay for them. It isn’t a community activity, in this view, unless everybody is made to participate in some way, usually by funding it.
Such a view can’t help but transform our beautiful space on the bay into either a perpetual battleground or a fiefdom in which only a few are satisfied.