What if you held a public hearing on a $70 million town budget and the public spoke nary a word?
For that matter, what if only one member of the public attended?
That was the experience of the board of selectmen and town manager George H. Dunham during the board’s April 17 meeting at town hall.
At 7:45 PM, board chairman James W. Pierce opened the hearing on the selectmen’s proposed town operating budget for the 2015 fiscal year. The town charter requires the selectmen to hold such a hearing every year.
The proposed $70.1 million budget is $1.7 million, or 1.9 percent, higher than the current budget.
Of that $70.1 million, about $52 million would come from property taxes. Even now, the average home in Sandwich pays about $5,000 in annual property taxes.
But the public did not come to castigate, or support, or, for that matter, say anything about the proposed budget, which would take effect July 1.
Only one member of the public—Peter Beauchemin of Herring Run—attended the hearing, and he is running for selectman in the May 8 town election. Mr. Beauchemin did not speak at the hearing.
Upon the invitation of Mr. Pierce, Mr. Dunham reviewed the major points of the proposed budget.
The big budget news this year is the opening this September of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (or STEM) Academy. All 7th and 8th grade public school students in town are slated to attend the academy, which will be located inside the high school.
Start-up costs associated with the opening of the academy required an increase of 3.78 percent in the school section of the overall budget, compared with a 2.5 percent increase in the municipal section.
But Mr. Dunham said no operating override will be needed, in large part thanks to lower costs for large items such as insurance, and to tighter budgeting than usual on some budget areas outside the town’s control, such as state aid.
“We took risks on some of the line items,” the town manager said.
Within nine minutes, the selectmen closed the hearing, and the board moved on to other business.
The public still will have an opportunity at the May 5 Annual Town Meeting to comment on and change the budget. The meeting begins at 7 PM at the high school.