nothing is certain in life but death and taxes, and the one thing almost everyone thinks taxes should be used for is saving us from early deaths. Police and fire departments are almost entirely funded by local governments, but there are significant differences from town to town in how much they take out of the budget. As the map below indicates, the percentage devoted to public safety (fire, police, and “other public safety,” as reported to the state Department of Revenue) in fiscal 2006 was highest in major cities from Fall River to Holyoke, but also in certain tourist areas such as Cape Cod and the North Shore town of Salisbury.

The town of Athol ranked first by this standard, but it was something of an aberration, as it was below the state average on per-capita spending in just about every area of government, including fire and police—which accounted for a large slice of the pie only because spending on education was even farther below the state average. In contrast, second-place Aquinnah spent more than the state average on almost everything. In particular, its police budget, at $919 per capita, was by far the highest in the state. (It doesn’t seem to be a violent area, but the Martha’s Vineyard Times last year reported on a crackdown on nude beachgoers.) Outside of the Cape and Islands, public safety made up the biggest shares of the budget in Boston and in Raynham, home to a greyhound racing track.

At the other end of the spectrum, high property values and below-average spending on police and fire departments in Holliston allowed that town to devote almost 60 percent of all general fund expenditures toward education. Several other western suburbs, including Acton, Hopkinton, and Stow, fit this pattern. However, any savings from the small budget devoted to the police and fire departments in Washington seem to have been eaten up by public works costs, as was the case in much of Berkshire and Franklin counties—perhaps because of heavy snowfall in the western part of the state.