CAPE ELIZABETH — In anticipation of the upcoming budget season, a new group has formed with a mission of keeping citizens and town leaders aware of issues surrounding town spending.
Cape For All, which claims to be non-partisan, hopes to “attain a reasonable balance between taxes and services through wider citizen awareness and involvement,” according to its Web site and the group’s president, Bill DeSena.
The group has a conservative foundation – its genesis was sparked by the school budget debate last year, when its members advocated for a lower school budget. But DeSena said the new organization won’t take sides on any issue, pressing for transparency rather than a specific agenda.
“I don’t think people mind spending money – if they have it and understand where it’s going,” he said.
DeSena said he hopes that members will be involved in the budget process as well as other town issues. Its 25 active members, ranging from lawyers to business owners to teachers, will research and provide facts relating to town spending – and spending alternatives – via an e-mail list, which DeSena said has about 1,300 subscribers.
Although conservative by nature – and looking for reigned-in spending – the group’s primary goal, DeSena said, is to increase awareness about spending, alternatives and outcomes, holding the town accountable for transparent decisions, and holding citizens accountable for knowing what’s going on regardless of their personal stance on any issue.
DeSena added that by providing digested meeting outcomes and information to citizens, the group might incite reactions from people sooner than would normally happen in the public hearing process. Throwing out these “trial balloons,” he said, will “hopefully mean town leaders aren’t blindsided” by divided special-interest groups.
He also said that by creating a collaborative discussion between citizens, group members, Town Councilors and other town leaders, the town as a whole might see “improved efficiency and services” with saved monies “redeployed to (line items) with a goal of higher school scores and improved services.”
Calling his group a “free outsource resource,” DeSena said he hopes that the skills and experience of group members might serve the town in their quest to tighten the budget – because whether citizens are fiscally conservative or not, town officials have announced an expected $500,000 shortfall in next year’s budget, along with a goal of no property tax increase.
DeSena said the group has already been involved in the recent Town Center intersection discussion, during which a traffic signal was proposed – and the decision postponed – for the intersection of Route 77 and Scott Dyer and Shore Roads.
He said members pushed for alternatives that would save money but also offer increased safety – like increased crosswalks and orange flags for pedestrians to carry when walking across Route 77 – several of which were part of a recently approved set of pedestrian safety improvements to the intersection.
While those suggestions may have come from group members at the Town Council’s public hearing, Town Manager Michael McGovern – who authored the pedestrian suggestions approved later by the Council – said he has yet to officially meet with anyone representing Cape For All.
While he said the town will take advice and ideas from any and all interested parties, he said Cape For All and other newly formed groups and associations seem to be part of a recent phenomenon that’s “fundamentally changing the way citizens deal with local government.”
These groups, he said, are creating e-mail lists and send mass messages pushing their own agendas about specific town issues. The challenge, McGovern said, is that the e-mail authors sometimes “forget that someone else has another agenda.”
So while DeSena said he hopes to prevent divisiveness, others may feel that the group is part of the dynamic that creates division.
McGovern’s recommendation? “It’s really important right now,” he said, in light of economic conditions, “that everyone is looking at the information and making their own conclusions.”
With that in mind, the challenge for Cape For All, DeSena acknowledged, will be to earn the “trust and confidence that we’re not (pushing) a political agenda.”
He admitted that people will be “suspicious until we have some mileage” and a handful of town issues under their belts.
Next on the group’s to-do list is a candidate forum for the two candidates running in a special Town Council election on Jan. 27. The candidates, Penny Jordan and James Walsh, are running for the seat recently vacated by Mary Ann Lynch.
The Cape For All forum will be televised and open to the public on Jan. 7 at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall.
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• Inside: No sacred cows as Cape Elizabeth budget talks begin. Page 3.
• FYI: Cape For All meets on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. at the home of Tom
and Sandi Dunham, 11 Becky’s Cove Lane, Cape Elizabeth. Bill DeSena asked for a heads-up
from people interested in attending so that enough refreshments and
seats are available. To contact the group or sign up for its e-mail
list, visit capeforall.com.