Studies, reports, plans and protocols all go the way of the summer leaves without intentional and committed implementation; that is, progressive leadership.

Since 1980, the fiscal environment generated by Proposition 2.5 for Marblehead has continued to produce inexorable inflationary forces but has held the Town budget to growth 20% to 30% (or more) behind those forces.

The only revenue increases available to your local governemnt are Proposition 2 1/2, new growth (increases in assessed value and new construction), increased fees and fines (a small resource), budget flexibility through abandoning some Town services or through enterprise funding or by the time-limited debt exclusion overrides. General overrides are also available, although after ten tries only two have been passed in Marblehead: one small one designated for the drain construction requirments, and another one for around $1 million for the general fund.

State aid has been and continues to be very undependable.

Local receipts have vacillated and "free cash" has declined.

Capital plans and debt-exclusion-driven plans have been interrupted by year-to-year changes in voter support, voter turnout at the polls, and changing political climates.

Minor pay raises have been helpful, but Marblehead continues to fall behind our comparable town list, and we are at the low average or at the low end, in any and every case.

The Finance Committee's role of balancing the budget with existing and projected revenues is being increasingly challenged every year. With declines in state aid, this has gone beyond the breaking point into the real decline of services and maintenance.

The issues of prioritization, improving the day-to-day management of the Town, the increasing enrollments in the schools, Recreation, Park and Forestry programs, Council on Aging programs, School Department facility requirements, and the continuing combinations of Town departments and services are all under increasing scrutiny and pressure.

In many areas of Town management, accountability and coordination (because of the Selectman's Town Administrator) much progress has been made.

New school construction in recent years is certainly a high point in recognition of the Town's responsibilities, progressive leadership and in the Town's coming together for the good of all.

But, the world is still with us. Increasing pressures on the traditional family, social exigencies pressing themselves upon us on all sides (safety, schools, an exponentially growing elderly population, skyrocketing health care costs and demands on the system, to mention a few) continue to drive agendas that require funding, flexibility, and the enduring of planning setbacks for the Town's infrastructures, rolling stock and other capital issues.

The demands for measurable performance from the public schools continue to have far-reaching social, educational and financial effects, many unforeseen and unpredictable. It needs to be said that these "effects" are not all good or beneficial.

The Charter School now removes approximately $1 million from the revenue stream.

But, ironically, the community government remains one of the most, if not the most, important ally all of us have in improving and defending day-to-day quality of life.

With all of the changes, there is a growing need for what has been called in the past a "currency of knowledge." Let the legal tender of our Town be accurate information, not self-referential anecdotes and personal opinions. Remember, in a Town that issues almost 1,000 paychecks per pay period, there will be many employees who are wonderful and some employees who are not. There will be programs that work and programs that do not. But don't let your consideration of Town issues be swayed by "old saws" that are spoken with force and bluster, but are not true, and couldn't possibly be true. "Government waste," "American students and government workers are lazy," "All they want is money, money, money," and many more generalities like them, are just the last refuge of people who simply don't know what is going on or won't put in the time to find out. And sad to say, they are also refuge for politicians who know better, but, simply put, pander to their personal constituencies.

Beware of people who always say the same old thing year after year; they've probably fallen far behind Marblehead's true reality, which waits around for no one.

Always remember, there are no easy answers. The easiest, least intellectual of all solutions, is to be negative. It's a lot easier, in some ways, to cut services than to improve or expand them. But the latter is clearly the challenge that lies ahead. Incentives, new services, new combinations, additional funding and the resurgent saliency of government are clearly on the agenda if the Town is to succeed in these times. Think of government as Marbleheaders working together, rather them against us, and you will find yourself to be part of the solution.

Marblehead has many people who are looking ahead progressively. Those poor souls who can't, or who won't visualize solutions that move us all ahead together, should at least allow those who are willing to try to build the future to have that opportunity.