It was great to read in Saturday's paper (The Times, June 20) that the city is no longer thinking about closing the Sawyer Free Library and Rose Baker Senior Center. Maybe the next bad idea to be dropped will be the School Committee's proposal to zero-fund public school athletics in fiscal 2010.
Municipal spending on the above three programs combined amounts to a minuscule percentage of the city's overall annual budget. So why pick on the library, senior center, and school athletics in the first place, especially considering the undeniably attractive cost-to-benefit ratio each brings to the table — a real plus for the residents of the city.
Perhaps now the mayor and members of the School Committee and City Council will stop their bickering and get on with the serious business of helping guide the community through these tough economic times.
But it might be helpful were all of us to remind ourselves how truly good families deal with hard times. Certainly the heads of such households don't gather up their kids and announce, "From now on there's going be food for only one or two of you."
Heads of households don't do that. Neither should heads of government. Instead, what good family heads do is ration whatever food there is among each of their children. It's a very simple principle called sharing.
Too often in Gloucester, as in most communities, we fail to apply that principle in dealing even with the least troublesome elements of a far more disturbing reality — that of a society whose political and economic institutions have become so riddled with corruption as to make one wonder whether the entire nation may be experiencing the same fate as befell the old Soviet Union in the 1980s.
Until recently, it had never dawned on me how a handful of bread bits, soaked in milk, topped off with a pinch of sugar, and served up in a little bowl by my mother, could once have been considered such a treat. But I was just a kid then, far too young to understand that there was a war going on (WWII), and that people on the home front were willingly making the best of Uncle Sam's policy of rationing.
Today, there's a scarcity of leadership and even less willingness on the part of the public to sacrifice. "I don't mind sacrifice, as long as I can have and keep mine," seems to be the prevailing attitude of most of us today.
That's why singling out the library and senior center for termination — even though the idea was quickly dropped — reminds me of a time when European military commanders would summon for execution two or three privates randomly selected from a unit seen as having displayed cowardice in its failure to carry out some impossible order from high command.
Even a glance at Mayor Kirk's most recent financial report reveals that what is most needed now, though perhaps most difficult to achieve, is a willingness to make sacrifices on the part of every member of every department in the city, starting from the top.
There does exist, however, one other place where a new source of local revenue could possibly be mined. And that is the Massachusetts Lottery.
Last year alone, Gloucester residents spent a whopping $22,832,368 on state-sponsored gaming. And how did our friends on Beacon Hill thank us for our generous contribution to the Statehouse coffers? By returning a measly $3,047,653 in Lottery dividends to the city.
That astonishing figure represents a $19,784,715 one-year net loss to Gloucester. Put another way, that's nearly $20 million that could have been earmarked for vitally needed services and programs here, rather than lost in the sinkhole of excess and unaccountability that is Statehouse politics.
Were we to take that amount and multiply it by 10 years, the figure saved and invested in Gloucester would come to somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million. Imagine the good that could be accomplished here with that kind of additional revenue.
But to tap into that squandered resource, we locals would first have to give up on the idea of ever hitting it big in the Lottery. Unfortunately, the odds of giving up on that intoxicating but costly illusion are as long as holding a winning Megabucks ticket.
But what if all that were to change? What if we took all that we now throw away on the Lottery and invested it, instead, on our schools, harbor development, the library, our senior center, public safety, alternative energy, housing, parks and playgrounds, perhaps even a new Newell Stadium?
Wouldn't that deliver a far bigger bang for the buck than our present, wasteful spending on the Lottery? I believe it would. And so, for the sake of the city, I am giving up on my Megabucks illusion and intend to turn over to the treasurer's office on Dale Avenue the two bucks that I spend every week on a scratch ticket.
Granted, my $100 or so per year contribution won't make even a dent in the city's budget problems. But if every other Lottery player in Gloucester were to follow suit, that's $23 million a year that could go straight to fixing much that needs fixing here in the city.
So I'll be stopping by City Hall in a day or two with the first of my weekly $2 stimulus checks. It may not seem like much in the way of a sacrifice. Still, it's one that I'm more than willing to make in an effort to help my city through these tough economic times.
Jim Munn, a frequent contributor to the Times, is the boys' track & field coach at Gloucester High School.