Well-heeled haters ought not lament paying higher taxes

Town elections are very important if you want insight into how our governments work. Let me be clear — when people are given choices and they spend some time considering the policy differences between the candidates, they can have a huge impact on the way in which things are done. I’ve seen selectmen come and go. Some have been terrible, others exemplary.

Let’s take my town of Great Barrington. We are very lucky this year because we have some great choices for the Selectboard. What’s more, the candidates really have different opinions about the way things should be done.

Taxes are relatively high in Great Barrington, especially when compared to towns like Alford next door where taxes are incredibly low. That may be because Great Barrington has a pretty big police force, a library, a substantial fire department, and a public works department, all of which cost big money. And incidentally, these services are all used by our neighbors in Alford, Egremont and Sheffield. I have no problem with that but we Great Barrington taxpayers are the ones who have to pay the freight.

In a town like ours, there will inevitably be people who think, “The taxes are too damned high.” Some of them really can’t afford an extra hundred dollars in taxes. Others have accumulated a good deal of wealth and don’t want to pay their share. We call that greedy and some town officials like Michael Wise have advanced tax-the-rich schemes to address that greed.

Some of the well-heeled folks have what Marx may have called “false consciousness.” They would never acknowledge their own inability to share so they come up with all kinds of complicated tax plans that they must know will never be adopted. They stand up at meetings and even load them with friends and neighbors who they convince of their righteousness. As a result, we find the haters often pitted against the long-suffering, long-serving taxpayers who do what they must to keep the town going.

There are two good candidates to be found among the three who are running for selectman in this election. Bill Cooke is the new face. His wife, Deborah Phillips, has been doing yeoman service for the town for years but is committed to running her successful nutrition counseling practice. Cooke is a bright and decent fellow who will be able to bring a spirit of pulling together to the Selectboard. Sean Stanton is running again and he has proven himself over and over. I’ll be voting for both of them. The third candidate, Karen Christenson, once served, by appointment on the school board. When she ran again she was defeated.

On a sad note, my old Alford neighbor, John James Dunn Sr., has passed. He was 91 years old and a beloved figure in my old neighborhood. I really loved the guy. When my car would break down, he would drive me to work and back in Albany.

He worked for the Department of Social Services, where he was very upset about politicians whose member item programs had to be certified by his department and more specifically by him. He was a great listener and a great talker and when we moved to Great Barrington I really missed our conversations.

During our early days in Alford we had a party line and it turned out that we shared it with the Dunn family. One day John’s young son cut into a conversation to say that there was an emergency at his house so I got right off the phone. It turned out to have been a terrible tractor accident and John’s wife was killed. That memory has been stuck in my mind ever since. He was married three times to three wonderful women. It’s easy to understand what a good husband he must have been. He’ll be missed.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 4/25/15

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