So the Brewster in Bloom parade passed right by my front door this past Sunday, complete with Grateful Dead cover bands on flat-bed trucks, old guys on funny little motorcycles, little kids dressed up as spring flowers and, of course, the Daffodil Queen. Only the most cynically confirmed urbanites could have failed to enjoy themselves during the event. I sat at the street edge of my newly reseeded front yard, chatted with the neighbors across the street during the slow spots and tried to keep Bart the dog from nipping at the heels of horseriders’ mounts. I wish the parades were a monthly event.
Then, last night, a small-town tradition unique (I think) to New England, the semi-annual Town Meeting. In the Midwest, we generally elect our representatives, and then let them go about the business of running the government. At election time, we give them our thumbs up or down, based on whether we agree with whatever taxes they might have imposed or rescinded, and whether they got our street onto the annual repaving schedule. Here on the Cape, and in many other towns in the region, the citizens, themselves make those decisions – selectmen can make recommendations and present statements backing their opinions. But, when all the yammering is done, local residents call out their individual “aye” or “nay” on virtually every decision. And if you want your street re-paved, you better be ready to defend your need to all your fellow taxpayers.
Oddly, the most contentious issue last night was a vote on a non-binding resolution with absolutely no financial impact. We zoomed through passing a $15 million budget and several hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital expenditures (looks like a couple photocopiers gave out this year). Some $4 million (only about $1.25 million of it out of Brewster coffers, thanks to state matching and other funding) was voted, with only minimal objection, to purchase 50+ acres of new conservation land. All city employees, union and non-union, will be getting 3 percent raises each year for the next 3 years (I wish I had that guarantee). But we hit a major speed bump on a vote to lend town support to an effort to develop a Cape-wide universal health plan.
The plan – really only an idea of a plan, at this point – is kind of a cool idea, and an example of the kind of creative self-reliance that makes the Cape an interesting place. It would be a county-specific (the Cape is all contained within Barnstable County) universal health program. That’s about as detailed as it gets right now, and the vote was simply intended to say, “Yes, we support the effort to think about this some more, because health insurance is stupidly expensive in Massachusetts.”
However, the reading of this warrant item prompted several impassioned left-y types to get up and plead the obvious point that insurance is moving out of reach of many in the state (as a self-insured person, I’m paying $1,200 more per year than I did in Illinois for health insurance), and right-y types to get up and argue about the number of Canadians who cross the border for U.S.-style medical access. (Side question: Can we somehow work out a trade of our doctors for their cheap drugs?) In the end, debate was halted, a voice vote was called – and a close majority called out their “aye”s in favor of this non-binding resolution supporting an effort to talk more about a plan to develop a plan.
I can’t wait for the meeting when an actual plan for a plan is up for discussion.