Vote local

It’s easy to focus on national politics, especially because New Hampshire is home to the first-in-the-nation primary — in fact, candidates are already here campaigning for the 2020 presidential contest.

But in this state, the politics that most affect families, specifically those who own homes, are at the local level.

March is when the majority of residents vote (some towns hold elections in April or May) on town and school budgets and elect selectmen, school board members, etc.

The choices voters make in their communities via the ballot box most directly affect their wallet. Without an income tax or sales tax, NH residents pay for things like new schools, improved infrastructure and additional police officers almost solely through property taxes.

If you own a home, then you are no doubt familiar with the swings of your tax bill from year to year.

So it’s surprising that given the stakes that so few are engaged — only 20 percent of registered voters choose to cast a ballot or participate in their town meeting. And what often times brings people to the polls is a desire to either vote for or vote against a big money project, with the winner often being the side that lobbied the loudest.

Yes, this is a rallying cry for you to exercise your civic duty and make your voice heard each spring and not just every four years during a presidential election year.

But I am also imploring you to be informed, and if you can, to participate earlier in the process.

An almost $90 million school district budget — like the one up for a vote in Derry this March — is calculated and debated throughout a months-long budgeting process and many meetings. Board meetings are open, unless there are special circumstances, and there is time for public comment. You can ask questions, speak out, and see firsthand how and what decisions are being made.

If you can’t be there, under the law, the meeting minutes must be made available to the public. The meetings are also often televised and they are covered by local media.

My career started as a newspaper reporter. I attended and wrote about countless school board, town council, planning board and zoning board meetings. I was impressed at the breadth and scope of work concerned residents did to make decisions and present the best options to voters. You can be one of those people who choose to run for a board seat and be the one in on the decision-making.

Finding the time to fit in yet another commitment between soccer practice and Girl Scouts may seem impossible, and perhaps for you it is. But before commenting on a social media post or voting blindly, become informed. Know before you go. Your community will be better off for it.

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