CLT UPDATE
Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance"
Thanks to teachers' unions, libraries close


Voters in nearly 60 percent of Massachusetts communities considering property tax increases this year have turned them down, one of the worst approval rates in recent years....

At least 54 Massachusetts communities have scheduled ballot measures this year seeking permission to permanently increase the local property tax levy, under the state's Proposition 2 law, which limits tax increases. Seventeen towns won approval for the tax-hike requests, 23 failed, and voters in two communities approved some ballot measures but rejected others, according to a Globe tally....

In December, the Globe found that two-thirds of overrides in 2006 were rejected, meaning 2007 is on track to be the second-straight year in which more override requests fail than pass. The anti-override trend follows more than a decade of mostly successful ballot measures.

"Something has to be done and continuing to raise property taxes isn't going to solve the problem for very long," said Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. "The Legislature will respond responsibly when they absolutely must, and it's our job to make sure they must by not giving them more revenues, either local option or higher property taxes." ...

[Gov.] Patrick, who ran on a platform of reducing property taxes, said he understands voters' frustration with the ongoing tax hikes.

"I'm frustrated, too," he said, "but we never promised we'd be able to do it with a magic wand."

The Boston Globe
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Voters in Mass. communities increasingly reject overrides


The readers in Northbridge, though, are not suffering alone. Strapped for cash, towns in Massachusetts, including Saugus, Medway, and Gloucester, are doing what many consider unthinkable.

They are targeting the library, outraging readers in a state that boasts of its intellectual capital, and leaving a few not-so-silent librarians fighting for the right to borrow books in their towns....

The problem Northbridge faces is not unique. From Randolph to Newbury, Ashland to Wrentham, library directors have been struggling in recent years, facing cutback after cutback.

The reason is simple economics. With health care costs, fixed costs, and utility rates rising, and revenue flat or shrinking, many towns are forced to make difficult choices or ask voters to approve property tax overrides.

The voters, many of whom are getting their information from the Internet, are not always sympathetic. In Northbridge two weeks ago, 59 percent of voters opposed a $3.7 million property tax override, effectively deciding they would rather see deep cuts at the library and schools than pay, on average, $728 in increased taxes this year.

The Boston Globe
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Cuts put towns' libraries at risk
With less revenue, many scaling back


While substantial differences still separate them, people on both sides of the recently defeated Proposition 2 override agree on one thing: It's time to sit down together and figure out an alternate financial plan for Newburyport's schools....

Nearly half of the city's 11,765 registered voters turned out Tuesday for the special election -- a percentage City Clerk Richard Jones deemed "very significant" -- sending the proposed $1.58 million tax increase to fund the city's schools to a resounding defeat, 3,286 to 2,212.

"This is just the start of a dialogue that's been missing in Newburyport," said Paul Acquaviva, spokesman for Yes for Newburyport, the group that lobbied for the override. "We need to keep having this discussion." ...

City Councilor Gary Roberts ... who chairs the council's budget and finance subcommittee, said one critical first step would be for all sides to focus on the single largest portion of the city's budget.

"We need to accept responsibility for the part of the problem we have control over, which is benefits and salaries. We can't change the state formula for spending. Eighty-one percent of the entire city budget is benefits and salaries," said Roberts, who voted against holding Tuesday's special election.

"Everyone says those are fixed costs. They are not fixed costs," Roberts added. "The mayor negotiates, and we approve. We're responsible."

Mayor John Moak, who also chairs the School Committee and was a prominent supporter of the override, said he isn't ready to rule out another shot at an override for the November ballot, when he is up for reelection.

"We have to investigate all avenues we have right now. It's my job to listen to the public," Moak said. "Certainly the vote was 'OK, we don't want an override right now.'"

The Boston Globe - North Edition
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Next up: Schools' financial future
After vote, sides come together


The recent deadly fire in Randolph where two young boys perished is a sad reality. The Randolph fire chief worked with budget cuts that resulted in two fewer firefighters showing up for that fire. The politicians in town, who, apparently not wanting any share of the blame, said the budget cuts resulted from a Proposition 2 override defeat at the polls. They also said more firefighters probably wouldn't have saved the boys. The fire chief seems to disagree with that opinion, saying you fight fires differently based on manpower.

Do Randolph voters who rejected the recent override share some of the blame for this tragedy? Had the override succeeded, would there be two boys alive today?

The Boston Globe - South Edition
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Letter to the Editor
Do voters share blame in fire?


As Randolph prepared last week for the funerals of stepbrothers Emmanuel Labranche and Valensky DuGuaran, the victims of a fatal house fire May 17, residents and officials were divided as to whether the town could have done more to avert the tragedy....

The department has 50 firefighters, town officials said, down from 55 in 2002. The Fire Department answered more than 8,000 emergency calls last year.

In the midst of the controversy, Randolph residents themselves have faced some painful self-examination.

In March, town voters rejected a $4.16 million Proposition 2 override. Of that, $108,000 would have been for the Fire Department.

The Boston Globe - South Edition
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Trying to put a dollar value on fire safety


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

Proposition 2 overrides are being defeated in record numbers across the state during this year's tax-hike season.  More taxpayers are showing up at the polls to vote them down, just saying:  "No, enough is enough.  We've given you all we can afford -- spend it more wisely and leave us alone!"  High voter turnout is reported in many of the elections.  Taxpayers increasingly have reached the limit of their own budgets, their patience and good will.

Tax-and-spend override supporters are playing the usual card left in their hand after defeat:  reducing or eliminating the more popular municipal programs:  things most agree government should provide.  Meanwhile, public employee benefits stand unscathed, unaffected.  But with each passing day, more taxpayers are coming to recognize the real problem with municipal spending:  Insatiable public employee union demands.

"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance" a teachers union bumper-sticker once proclaimed.  Of course, the most insatiably greedy union of the crowd meant "feed us more!"  Otherwise, the most powerful union in the state would never stand quietly by as libraries are being closed, falling like dominoes around the state.  Like trash pickup and reduced public safety, libraries have become early casualties of budget reductions.  Public employees overall continue to prosper.

Public employee unions even eat their own in their incessant push for more, higher, and better benefits for their members.  Even when some towns sacrifice six policemen to balance the budget, the benefits for those remaining increase.  If a town must eliminate a dozen teachers, those who remain will get only fatter and more comfortable.  If five firefighters must be let go to balance a budget, those who remain will still see pay raises and continued benefits as the cost to taxpayers escalates and services diminish.  This is the union way:  "Look for the union label"!  Then they blame taxpayers for the cuts in personnel and services, come back and demand increased staffing later.

Override proponents have taken to down-and-dirty gutter tactics after their defeats, blaming every calamity and catastrophe on taxpayers refusing to shoulder ever more of a burden.  The most despicable example followed Randolph's recent override defeat.  The unfortunate death of two young step-brothers in a house fire was cause for the fire chief and others to point the finger of blame at apparently selfish taxpayers!

But for $108,000 the two boys might have lived, we're expected to believe!  Negotiated union contract increases, aka "fixed costs," far exceeded that amount:  Randolph was seeking a $4.16 million override.  So don't blame the voters and taxpayers -- if anyone, blame the town's greedy, insatiable public employee unions.  I'll bet an override of $108,000 earmarked for the fire department would have passed if seen as necessary for public safety.

I'll also bet that the vast amount above $108,000 -- most of the remaining  $4.052 million -- was intended for "education and the schools" -- "for the children," you know.  Demanded by the Education Industrial Complex, as most overrides are.  That thread-worn excuse is a fraud, because two of those children just died in a fire.  (Not that more firefighters or money to hire them would have been available even had the recent override succeeded -- until the next municipal budget included it and new hires could be made.)

"How many more must die?" before the unions loosen their selfish stranglehold on city and town officials?  "How many more must die?" before those cowed elected officials recognize the real problem is the unions, that the only solution is inevitable -- sooner or later?  Some of them are finally beginning to recognize the root problem as well.

Which reminds me of another teachers union bumper-sticker slogan:

"If you can read this, thank a teacher"!  Thank an individual teacher, perhaps -- but you owe nothing to the unions but the unconscionable taxes they already extract.

Chip Ford

 


The Boston Globe
Sunday, May 27, 2007

Voters in Mass. communities increasingly reject overrides
By John C. Drake


Voters in nearly 60 percent of Massachusetts communities considering property tax increases this year have turned them down, one of the worst approval rates in recent years.

From $5.2 million in Saugus to $78,000 in Topsfield, voters have turned down the pleas of town officials and activists, who say they need the tax hikes to cover increased labor costs and avoid laying off teachers and cutting services.

At least 54 Massachusetts communities have scheduled ballot measures this year seeking permission to permanently increase the local property tax levy, under the state's Proposition 2 law, which limits tax increases. Seventeen towns won approval for the tax-hike requests, 23 failed, and voters in two communities approved some ballot measures but rejected others, according to a Globe tally.

Most of the rest will vote before July 1.

The state's proposition 2 law prohibits local communities from raising property taxes more than 2 percent higher than the previous year unless they get permission from voters. The law was passed in 1980 to address an outcry among taxpayer advocates that property tax hikes were getting out of control. In December, the Globe found that two-thirds of overrides in 2006 were rejected, meaning 2007 is on track to be the second-straight year in which more override requests fail than pass. The anti-override trend follows more than a decade of mostly successful ballot measures.

"Something has to be done and continuing to raise property taxes isn't going to solve the problem for very long," said Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. "The Legislature will respond responsibly when they absolutely must, and it's our job to make sure they must by not giving them more revenues, either local option or higher property taxes."

Governor Deval Patrick has invoked the increasing failure rate of Proposition 2 overrides as he stumps for proposed legislation that would allow towns to assess a new local tax on meals and hotels, and give them access to reduced-cost state pension and health insurance networks. Dozens of select boards and other local officials have endorsed the proposals, collectively called the Municipal Partnership Act.

That so many communities say they need large tax hikes to meet ongoing costs indicates a systemic problem, Patrick said in a phone interview Friday, adding that the way local government services are funded needs to be reformed . "That's just not a sustainable model, and it's a particular hardship for seniors and people on fixed incomes," he said.

To alleviate property taxes, Patrick said he would like to have the state income tax credit now used by seniors expanded to all homeowners. The provision was not included in House and Senate versions of next year's state budget.

The override rejections are becoming increasingly painful for local officials as large requests -- including $5 million in Shrewsbury and $4.1 million in Randolph -- go down despite vigorous campaigns by town and school officials.

In the past week, six of seven override requests have failed to pass. West Boylston voters decisively rejected a $3.1 million tax hike Thursday. Groton and Dunstable both rejected tax hikes last week to fund increases in their contributions to the Groton Dunstable Regional School District. Newburyport voters turned down a $1.58 million tax hike Tuesday, while on the same day fewer than 200 voters turned out in Otis to reject a $150,00 increase. In Gill, voters rejected a $300,000 increase Monday. In Franklin, voters supported a $2.7 million increase Tuesday.

"The stakes are higher," said John Robertson , deputy legislative director for the Massachusetts Municipal Association, who tracks local tax-hike votes. "The problems are bigger, which leads communities to seek bigger questions, which makes it harder to win."

Patrick, who ran on a platform of reducing property taxes, said he understands voters' frustration with the ongoing tax hikes.

"I'm frustrated, too," he said, "but we never promised we'd be able to do it with a magic wand."

Communities try various strategies to persuade taxpayers to hand over more of their cash to fund municipal services.

Marshfield voters had the option of approving a $4 million tax hike, or, if that number proved too big to swallow, they could vote for a smaller, $2 million increase. The town won approval in its April 28 election for the smaller amount.

"We had initially looked at a $4.5 million override, which would have carried us through three years," said Marshfield town administrator John Clifford . "But most people felt that the $4.5 million number was too much for voters to accept. We decided we had to offer a lesser option."

While the approval will allow the town to restore some services for the coming fiscal year, voters might be faced with another tax hike for the 2009 budget year, Clifford said.

Many towns facing large deficits have tried to bargain with voters. In Amherst and Ashland, for example, town leaders crafted long-range fiscal plans and promised that they would not seek tax hikes for a few years if voters approved this one. Neither town was successful.

Amherst voters rejected a $2.5 million override on May 1, and Ashland voters turned down a $2 million tax hike on May 15. Ashland Town Manager John Petrin said the override would have allowed the town to restore services and positions cut last year. The town already has added fees for trash collection, increased school bus fees, and shuttered town offices on Fridays.

"The system is not working anymore in this state for municipalities," Petrin said.


The Boston Globe
Sunday, May 27, 2007

Cuts put towns' libraries at risk
With less revenue, many scaling back
By Keith O'Brien


The Northbridge public library was built to last with marble floors, cast-iron book shelves, and thick, gray granite walls. And just in case anyone ever forgot, the founders made their intentions clear in 1914 on a bronze plaque outside. The library, they said, was to be "maintained forever."

But even forever has a bottom line. And yesterday, budget cuts and voter indifference in Northbridge finally caught up with the institution officially known as the Whitinsville Social Library. Its doors closed at 2 p.m. And though they will reopen again this week, people in Northbridge, population 13,100, will notice a difference.

The town cannot afford the $200,000 needed to keep the library fully running for another year. Once open 40 hours a week, it will be open just 12 hours starting this week. Six of the library's nine employees, including both full time librarians, are out of work starting today. The Whitinsville Social Library will not be a library so much as it will be an isolated house of books, cut off from the state public library system and funded solely by private money left to the library over the years.

There will be no children's story time. No summer reading program. No Internet access. And no way to borrow books from other public libraries. The library, founded in 1844, has become what it once was: an outpost.

The readers in Northbridge, though, are not suffering alone. Strapped for cash, towns in Massachusetts, including Saugus, Medway, and Gloucester, are doing what many consider unthinkable.

They are targeting the library, outraging readers in a state that boasts of its intellectual capital, and leaving a few not-so-silent librarians fighting for the right to borrow books in their towns.

"A library in a town is really the center of literacy," said John Rauth , chairman of the board of trustees of the Whitinsville Social Library. "And it's really a blow to the culture of a town to lose that access."

The problem Northbridge faces is not unique. From Randolph to Newbury, Ashland to Wrentham, library directors have been struggling in recent years, facing cutback after cutback.

The reason is simple economics. With health care costs, fixed costs, and utility rates rising, and revenue flat or shrinking, many towns are forced to make difficult choices or ask voters to approve property tax overrides.

The voters, many of whom are getting their information from the Internet, are not always sympathetic. In Northbridge two weeks ago, 59 percent of voters opposed a $3.7 million property tax override, effectively deciding they would rather see deep cuts at the library and schools than pay, on average, $728 in increased taxes this year.

Voters in Saugus made a similar decision this year -- and with similar results. The Saugus Public Library, though still funded through the end of this fiscal year, will close its doors Tuesday, needing time to prepare the building to be shuttered by the end of June. And Medway's library, though still open, is cut off from the state library system, just like Northbridge, after an override failed last spring and the library budget was gutted.

In the library world, this is called "decertification" and, for locals in places like Medway and Northbridge, it's no small penance. A decertified library is not part of the public library system. It may remain open, but the people who live in that town are unable to borrow or request books from other libraries.

Randolph's public library, the Turner Free Library, suffered that fate last year. With a larger budget behind it in the new fiscal year, Randolph now expects to regain certified status. But there are plenty of other ways a library can struggle. Gloucester lost its bookmobile three years ago. And when an override failed there in April, the library director quit in disgust. The acting library director, Carol Gray , says the next thing to be cut in Gloucester, if needed, would be evening hours at the children's library.

Meanwhile, hours of operation have been shrinking at libraries in Ashland, Wrentham, Melrose, and Holliston, just to name a few. Leslie McDonnell , the library director in Holliston, said she had no choice but to trim hours. Utility costs there have more than doubled since 2002.

"It's astronomical, the energy costs," she said. "So, as a result of these kinds of things, there's no padding anymore."

David Gray, spokesman for the Massachusetts Board of Library Directors, said there is really no simple, statewide solution. Since libraries are primarily funded by the town or city that they are in, it is incumbent upon the town to step up and find a way to keep the library running and fully staffed.

"We sort of have a saying in our office that every community gets the library that it deserves. And that sort of means, if there's support, the library is often well maintained. And if there isn't support, the library often doesn't get the staff, hours, and materials it needs," Gray said.

Towns are often forced to choose between providing free access to books or hiring a couple more firefighters or police officers. Saugus town manager Andrew Bisignani said public safety has to come first. In the cold, mathematical world of budgets, public libraries have a label they cannot shake. They are a "non-essential service."

"People are looking at the cost, the price, because with diminished budgets, every dollar counts," said Mary Rose Quinn , the library director in Saugus. "But what's forgotten is that the value that we offer far exceeds anything that anybody pays."

For librarians like Quinn, this is personal. As they see it, this is Massachusetts, home of the first lending library, opened in Franklin, in 1790, with books donated by Benjamin Franklin. This is a state that prides itself on higher education and boasts a higher percentage of college-educated adults than any other state in the United States. Here, among all places, libraries are being targeted?

"It's not supposed to happen," said Wendy Rowe , chairwoman of the board of library trustees in Medway. The beauty of the public library, she said, is that it is always there and it is for everyone.

"That's the thing that really gets to me," said Rowe. "Libraries are the soul of the community. They're community centers -- not just books. And anybody can go to it. Not just school-aged kids or seniors. Everybody is welcome to come. . . . And [in Medway] it was open more than most things in town. At least it was."

That changed last year. After budget cuts, Medway slashed library hours from 40 to 20 hours a week. The staff, once 11 people, became three. The library there now is without a library director and a janitor. Rowe does both jobs.

"I can clean," she said. But so far she has been unable to convince voters or town officials about the importance of the library. Meanwhile, in Saugus, Quinn is preparing for an even more troubling end. As it stands right now, the Saugus library has no funding for the 2007-08 fiscal year.

"We're hoping for some reprieve," Quinn said. "Some miracle."

For Saugus, that could be a trash fee. If approved by the town selectmen next month, residents would be charged $104 annually for trash collection, raising about $1 million for the town, and the Saugus library could remain at least partly open. But the hour of miracles has passed for the library in Northbridge.

Yesterday, in the waning hours of operation there, people came in to return books and say good bye to the librarians who are leaving.

There was Jim Furrey , who claims to check out more books than anyone else in town, and Paul Ostrosky, who comes to use the Internet.

There was Dot Lane , 82, who said she has been crying over her library, and Fred Erickson, 91, and his wife, Dot, 87, who have been coming to the library for 60 years.

"This is sad," said Dot Erickson. "This is sad to have this happen to this beautiful library. What are you going to do about it? Not a darn thing."

The Ericksons know times are tough in Northbridge. The schools, the senior center, the police and fire departments -- they are all facing cuts. But the Ericksons will especially miss the library.

"Goodbye, everybody," Dot Erickson said as she and her husband edged toward the door. She said she has just one wish for the library.

"I hope it's open again before we die."


The Boston Globe - North Edition
Sunday, May 27, 2007

NEWBURYPORT
Next up: Schools' financial future
After vote, sides come together
By Kay Lazar


It may end up being hashed out in living rooms, on the floor of City Council, or even along the waterfront. While substantial differences still separate them, people on both sides of the recently defeated Proposition 2 override agree on one thing: It's time to sit down together and figure out an alternate financial plan for Newburyport's schools.

"Clearly both sides need to come to the table. It can't just be one group," said Brenda Reffett, a founder of Know Newburyport, the grass-roots group that opposed the tax increase.

Nearly half of the city's 11,765 registered voters turned out Tuesday for the special election -- a percentage City Clerk Richard Jones deemed "very significant" -- sending the proposed $1.58 million tax increase to fund the city's schools to a resounding defeat, 3,286 to 2,212.

"This is just the start of a dialogue that's been missing in Newburyport," said Paul Acquaviva, spokesman for Yes for Newburyport, the group that lobbied for the override. "We need to keep having this discussion."

Now there is talk of trying to pull together some sort of community forum, much like Newburyport did about four years ago for budget issues, to chart a new, longer-term school financial plan. The first, and somewhat unusual, step may occur at 6 Thursday night with an informal gathering at Somerby's Landing on the city's downtown waterfront. Organizer Dominique Dear, who organized earlier town forums, hopes the city's historic waterfront, bathed in the light of the evening's full blue moon, will help inspire participants to take a longer view.

"There has been a great deal of animosity about this issue," Dear said. "It's time for us to roll up our sleeves toward that common goal."

City Councilor Gary Roberts, who has spoken to Dear about possibly holding more formal meetings on the issue, agreed that longer-term planning is needed. Roberts, who chairs the council's budget and finance subcommittee, said one critical first step would be for all sides to focus on the single largest portion of the city's budget.

"We need to accept responsibility for the part of the problem we have control over, which is benefits and salaries. We can't change the state formula for spending. Eighty-one percent of the entire city budget is benefits and salaries," said Roberts, who voted against holding Tuesday's special election.

"Everyone says those are fixed costs. They are not fixed costs," Roberts added. "The mayor negotiates, and we approve. We're responsible."

Mayor John Moak, who also chairs the School Committee and was a prominent supporter of the override, said he isn't ready to rule out another shot at an override for the November ballot, when he is up for reelection.

"We have to investigate all avenues we have right now. It's my job to listen to the public," Moak said. "Certainly the vote was 'OK, we don't want an override right now.' "

Moak said leaders also should focus on making Superintendent of Schools Kevin Lyons's restructuring plan work within the now tighter budget constraints. Without the funds from the proposed tax increase, the schools will lose 18.5 positions, including five at the high school and five teachers in the middle school's foreign language program, which will be eliminated. The money also would have covered updating the district's aging computers and technology and modernizing the 12-year-old literacy program in grades K-8.

"We want to make sure the school system can do the best it can with the funds it has," Moak said. "That was a pretty commanding vote. But we certainly don't want to let education continue to slip in Newburyport in regards to curriculum offerings, the level of materials we have for people to work with, and [the ability] to continue to attract good teachers."

But the amount of money a community spends on education may not be the determining factor for the quality of its education, said Reffett, whose group used state education figures to compare Newburyport's spending and student performance to those in other communities.

"There are others who are doing better than us [in student performance] who spend less than us," she said.

Newburyport spends more per pupil than is spent in Amesbury, Ipswich, Lynnfield, and the regional districts of Masconomet, Pentucket, and Triton, Reffett said. Yet Newburyport's 10th-graders scored lower than all but Amesbury and Triton students in the MCAS achievement tests, she said.

As both sides of the tax debate now try to bridge the considerable gap between them, all agree the issue is likely to remain a key one in the elections this fall.

"We are going to want to know where all the candidates stand on education," said Acquaviva. "Candidates for City Council and mayor."


The Boston Globe - South Edition
Thursday, May 24, 2007

Letter to the Editor
Do voters share blame in fire?


The recent deadly fire in Randolph where two young boys perished is a sad reality. The Randolph fire chief worked with budget cuts that resulted in two fewer firefighters showing up for that fire. The politicians in town, who, apparently not wanting any share of the blame, said the budget cuts resulted from a Proposition 2 override defeat at the polls. They also said more firefighters probably wouldn't have saved the boys. The fire chief seems to disagree with that opinion, saying you fight fires differently based on manpower.

Do Randolph voters who rejected the recent override share some of the blame for this tragedy? Had the override succeeded, would there be two boys alive today? There is no way of knowing for certain, but more firefighters are always better than fewer.

Right now public officials in Randolph seem to be playing the blame game, but that won't bring two boys back to life.

The critics and towns of the Globe South region need to look at the most recent fire as a wake-up call. What is more important? Saving money? Or saving lives? Think about it.

Sal Giarratani
Quincy


The Boston Globe - South Edition
Sunday, May 27, 2007

RANDOLPH
Trying to put a dollar value on fire safety
By Emily Yahr


As Randolph prepared last week for the funerals of stepbrothers Emmanuel Labranche and Valensky DuGuaran, the victims of a fatal house fire May 17, residents and officials were divided as to whether the town could have done more to avert the tragedy.

The debate filtered down to Tuesday night's annual Town Meeting, where residents approved a $23,000 increase in the Fire Department's budget, to nearly $3.8 million for the 2008 fiscal year.

In the hours after the boys' deaths, Fire Chief Charles D. Foley Jr. was quoted as saying that because of a decreased budget, the department was understaffed, and the outcome of the fire might have been different with more manpower on the scene.

Foley, who has faced criticism for those comments, addressed the Town Meeting crowd Tuesday with remarks he said he wrote prior to the tragedy. He encouraged residents to vote in the best interest of the town's safety, and to understand the department's mission.

"The Fire Department must provide unlimited service with a limited budget," he said, and it needs the resources to "to put the right people with the right skills in the right place at the right time." With Randolph's senior population steadily increasing, and with new code enforcement and zoning regulations, an adequate budget is more crucial than ever, he said.

The money he was asking for was approved with minimal debate, but divisions lingered over whether a lack of resources hindered the town's response to the fatal blaze.

Town officials have countered Foley's earlier comments by pointing out that public safety budgets have been stable over the last several years. Michael J. Carroll, the town's executive secretary, said the fire chief has the authority to hire within the budget, and it's up to him to fill the vacant positions.

The department has 50 firefighters, town officials said, down from 55 in 2002. The Fire Department answered more than 8,000 emergency calls last year.

In the midst of the controversy, Randolph residents themselves have faced some painful self-examination.

In March, town voters rejected a $4.16 million Proposition 2 override. Of that, $108,000 would have been for the Fire Department.

Some residents acknowledge that while it is impossible to predict what would have happened with extra firefighters on the scene, it is crucial to make sure that the question never has to be asked again.

Valaree Crawford, who has lived in Randolph for 25 years, said she voted for the March override without hesitation, and has always felt that people need to help fund the Fire Department. She said she hopes the tragedy will persuade people to change their votes when it comes to future overrides.

"We can't be cutting essential services to the town," Crawford said. "This shouldn't have happened, and it was a wake-up call to the community."

Others, while acknowledging the horrific outcome, say they will not necessarily vote to increase spending for the Fire Department. It is hard to know whether more firefighters would have made an impact, said resident Debbi Savage.

And, she added, attention should be focused on all the public safety departments, not just one.

Town Meeting attendees also offered support to the Fire Department.

Don Rosa, a lifelong Randolph resident, said he wasn't sure any number of firefighters would have made a difference, but he wanted to give the chief and department the benefit of the doubt.

"It's a real tragedy what happened," he said. "But we have to put faith in people that know the job."

Coleen Burgess agreed, and added that her vote would not be swayed one way or the other because of one situation, no matter how tragic.

"I'm always supportive of this town's Fire Department. I think they put 110 percent effort into their jobs," she said.

Many said it's too late for second-guessing, and they are focusing their thoughts and prayers on the family that lost their two boys. Emmanuel, 17, attended Blue Hills Regional Technical School in Canton, and Valensky, 10, was a student at the John F. Kennedy Elementary School.

The boys' family lost all it owned in the fire, and to help, the town established two funds -- one at Citizens Bank and the other at Randolph Savings Bank. A gift registry was set up at Wal-Mart in the boys' mother's name, Yvrose DuGuaran.


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