Today, we present the 2020 Editorial Agenda for the Cambridge News and Deerfield Independent.

An Editorial Agenda lends focus to our Opinion Page writing. It doesn’t mean we won’t occasionally veer in unexpected directions in our staff-written, unsigned editorials and bylined columns. But we’ll try as often as we can to stick to these targeted themes.

Our main Opinion Page focuses for the coming year:

1. Long-term fiscal planning

We need to fund emergency services, school building and curriculum upgrades, personnel costs that includes the ever-rising cost of health insurance, upgrades to streets, parks and other infrastructure, and economic development initiatives, all in the short-term and into the future. Do our local municipalities and school districts currently have in place long-term capital and operating budget plans, that look out five or more years? Are there, additionally, healthy reserve accounts that can be tapped when unexpected costs arise and that can be tapped in a planned way to pay for major projects and initiatives? Are long-term plans being regularly reviewed to ensure that they remain in-line with changing visions and circumstances? We’ll continue to push for this level of long-term fiscal planning and accountability and make a point to recognize when it’s being done well.

2. The care and handling of downtown

Who owns our Main Street properties and are they being put to their best use? What legal recourse, if any, do municipalities have to force maintenance of downtown buildings? What legal recourse, if any, do municipalities have to block – or force — removal of buildings? If property owners aren’t actively working to re-open shuttered storefronts what recourse does a municipality have? How can local residents more actively support property and business owners by buying local and accessing local services? We’ll push in 2020 for a thorough conversation on the preservation and maintenance of our historic downtowns and weigh in on the keys to their continued vitality.

3. Local resident investment

There will always be people in our communities who live on very fixed incomes. But how much are those who have the means willing to financially invest in the preservation of our small towns and high-quality small school districts? School and municipal referendums will always have detractors but what are the consequences of not asking those who can, to help fund improvements? We’ll continue in 2020 to push for a thorough conversation on what baseline level of local resident investment is needed to maintain our small towns and small schools, what steps might be taken to secure that investment, and how much of an ask is too much for the community to realistically shoulder. We’ll also continue to push for a conversation about the benefits of investing beyond fundamental, baseline needs, to a level that not only maintains, but noticeably improves our schools and communities. This is a hard conversation to initiate but the actually-required dollar investment and the long-term benefits might surprise and please us all.

4. Educating children as whole people

We hear it from our school administrators and agree: math and spelling are critical but so is raising children in a school and broader community where they are valued, known by their first names and grow up to be as kind, and mentally and socially prepared for adulthood, as they are knowledgeable about chemistry and calculus. May our small school districts not lose their whole-child focus as they continue to work to meet academic mandates. We’ll continue in 2020 to remind readers of this amid the regular release of test scores and other data. And we’ll lend our thoughts to the broader ongoing conversation of how we continue to keep our schools strong and focused on what’s best for kids.

5. 21st Century Vision

As we head into the 2020s, about a century and a half after white settlers began to arrive here en masse, our founding becomes more and more something to cherish but not something that drives all of our everyday decisions. We need to consider whether, in addition to holding onto our history, our communities are meeting modern needs. Do all of the following meet the needs of a mix of generations and mesh with the modern philosophies of people who are looking to call this home or to remain living here: our current housing stock including middle-income and senior housing; retail and service offerings; schools; recreational opportunities; food pantries and other socio-economic safety nets; our approach to broader societal issues like gun violence and environmental policy; our mix of volunteer opportunities; our mix of non-profit and civic groups; our approach to educating children; and our mix of job opportunities? If we’re not sure the answer is fully “yes,” what needs to be done to get us there?

6. A rural voice

It’s important enough that we’re repeating this agenda item from 2019. Out here on the Dane-Jefferson County line, it’s easy to feel like our needs and opinions aren’t heard. We pay taxes in exchange for roads to be maintained by the state and county on a reasonable timeline. We expect funding for maintenance of our waterways and other natural spaces to be as much of a priority as the care of natural elements in more populated areas. We won’t be silent when budget cuts, funding freezes and priority shifts at higher levels of government threaten our schools, woods, streams, historic spaces, roads and communities in general. When someone at the county or state level does listen — and act — we also promise to recognize those good efforts.

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