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Math is hard: Taxpayers pay for mistakes

December 17. 2017 8:36PM

When local officials make a mistake on their math homework, local taxpayers end up paying for it.

An error on a form led to a $600,000 revenue shortfall in Londonderry. Both the school district and the town have some undesignated fund balances to make it up, or each could tap a rainy day fund. Ultimately, the mistake means less money rolling into next year’s budget, and a higher tax rate.

In Pembroke, failure to anticipate falling enrollment has led to a nearly $1 million shortfall in the school district budget. Officials are commissioning an audit to find out what went wrong, but that will be cold comfort to Pembroke taxpayers stuck with higher-than-anticipated property tax bills.

To err is human. We aren’t demanding that Londonderry and Pembroke budget writers be forced to walk the plank for their mistakes.

Both cases should serve as cautionary tales to local officials across the state as they prepare their warrants for Town Meeting. Every number of every spreadsheet is coming from someone else’s wallet. Santa makes his list, and checks it twice. Municipal budget writers have to be just as careful.

Fiscal discipline, cautious revenue estimates, and deliberate budget practices can minimize the number of unpleasant surprises local taxpayers face next year.

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