Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Concord Goes To Court To Fight Taxpayer Revolt

In these tough economic times is it any surprise taxpayers want the government, and more specifically, their local government to hold the line and spending and taxes? Apparently it is to one of the local cities here in New Hampshire.

The city of Concord, the state capitol, has gone to court in an effort to head off a taxpayer revolt, the revolt taking the form of a petition to get the question of imposing a tax cap on the November ballot. (No direct link available, but the December 3rd issue of the Laconia Daily Sun can be found here.)

Petitioners, led by the conservative New Hampshire Advantage Coalition, sough to place an amendment adding a tax cap to the city charter on the general election ballot this year, but the City Council, in a decision upheld by the Superior Court, chose to postpone the vote until the municipal elections in November 2009. At the same time, the council filed suit, appealing the opinion of three state agencies required by law to approve charter amendments – the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Commissioner of the Department of Revenue Administration – that the language of the amendment is consistent with the Constitution and state law.

The Concord City Council is taking the position that such a charter amendment is unconstitutional because it lies outside the “home rule” article in the state constitution. It seems the councilors don't like the idea of the taxpayers “gettin' uppity” and telling them how much they're going to be allowed to spend. By moving the ballot question to an off-year, the City Council knew voter turnout would be far lower than if the question had been on this year's ballot, giving the councilors a better chance of quashing the charter amendment.

A small number of other New Hampshire communities have already incorporated tax caps into their charters and they appear to be holding spending and taxes in check. However that could be in jeopardy should the Merrimack County Superior Court rule in Concord's favor. Such a decision could invalidate the tax cap portion of the charters of those municipalities, assuming such a decision isn't appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Tax caps have been a instrument to rein in profligate spending and rapidly increasing property taxes. They were enacted because the city or town governments weren't willing to do what was necessary to keep spending and taxes in check. For the most part the tax caps have been successful, forcing the cities and towns to keep a close eye on spending and make them better able to discriminate between nice-to-haves and need-to-haves. If Concord gets its way, all that will go out the window and the taxpayers will once again get the shaft...and the bill.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Is A Tax Revolt In New Hampshire Imminent?

With the economy slowing down and tax revenues down, towns, cities and states are tightening their belts. In some cases the taxpayers are trying to force their communities to live within their means by petitioning for and voting in tax caps, which limit the amount of tax increases, and in turn, spending increases.

Two cities in the Granite State have been fighting off the taxpayer initiatives, in some cases by ignoring ballot petitions or delaying them in an effort to quash them.

To listen from the rhetoric coming from Manchester and Concord you'd think it was selfish and irresponsible of the taxpayers to ask for controls on spending and taxes. Somehow they have come to believe the taxpayers should just shut up, pay up, and stop questioning the 'wisdom' of the aldermen/city council. After all, if such measures were put in place the cities might have to cut services, the ones usually mentioned being police and fire protection. It's one of the bludgeons used in the past to scare the taxpayers into inaction or capitulation. But in most cases it is a lie. The tax caps force the city governments into more careful and frugal spending, to make the hard choices, just as any of us make when money is tight.

One commenter to the article linked above thought that imposing more taxes would somehow solve the problem.

..[W]e trim everything we can in our town budgets to help offset the pain of onerous property taxes that squeeze us just so we don't implement a sales or income tax! The tourists will still come if we institute a sales tax; rich will still live here if we institute an income tax!

Oh, yeah! Let's raise taxes during a recession! Just what the New Hampshire economy needs.

My biggest problem with the solution is that it gives the legislature a blank check to spend like there is no tomorrow. The commenter also makes the assumption that a broadbased tax will lessen the property tax burden in the state. But as history has shown again and again and again, it doesn't. All that happens is new taxes are imposed and property taxes continue to rise. There is never relief from the property taxes. Every state that has used that as a reason for a broadbased tax has found that to be so. Spending does not go down, government expands, and the taxpayer ends up with even less money in their wallet. So much for property tax relief.

The only way to prevent higher taxes is to prevent higher spending. If money gets tight, spending cuts must be made. A number of services or programs are not need-to-haves, but nice-to-haves. Some duplicate the efforts of other services or programs. At times programs or services meet the needs of very few, yet are funded at the expense of other services that meet the needs of many. There are times when spending cuts must be looked at dispassionately, must use cost/benefit analysis to decide which ones do the most good for the most people.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Biden And Palin Square Off In St. Louis

Tonight's Vice Presidential debate may be the make or break point for John McCain's run for the White House. If Sarah Palin shows the spunk she did during the convention and campaign stops, the McCain/Palin ticket still has a chance. If, on the other hand, she acts like ABC and CBS News made her appear during heavily edited interviews, McCain will only see the inside of the Oval Office when he comes to visit President Obama.

As one of the local papers here headlined it, “Veep debate pits hockey moms against rail riders.”

Let's see how she does....


Gwen Ifill laid down the rules and conditions of the debate before introducing the candidates.

The first question went to Senator Biden, asking him about the bailout and whether it was a good or bad idea.

His response was predictable: it's all the Republicans fault, and particularly President Bush.

Palin's response: ask the parents at a kids soccer game what they think. You'll get a more accurate response about the economy, the stock market, and the bank meltdowns than you'll get from Congress or the talking heads.

Both said partisanship should be set aside, but the question is who would better be able to deal with the situation.


The next question dealt with the sub-prime lending meltdown, and who was a fault: the predatory lenders or the risk-taking borrowers?

Palin responded: “Darn right it was the predatory lenders who tried to talk Americans into thinking it was smart to buy a $300,000 house when they could only afford a $100,000 house. There was greed and corruption on Wall Street.” She played the Joe Sixpack/hockey mom card, too, sayign we should be smart and not live outside our means.

Biden: “Barack warned about sub-prime loans, and McCain promoted them.” Really? Yet there's plenty of video showing McCain speaking out against such practices and warning that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were out of control.

Palin's rebuttal: Obama had almost 100 chances to help cut taxes on the middle class, but didn't.

Biden: She didn't say anything about deregulation!

Palin: So what. I'm speaking to the American people. I know about cutting taxes and getting it back to the people.


About taxes:

Biden: Taxes are about fairness. (Excuse me? Since when are taxes about fairness? Most of the middle class doesn't pay any taxes, so how can you cut them?)

Plain: Paying higher taxes is patriotic? Better that government get out of the way and let everyone keep more of their money. Government is more often the problem and not the solution. Redistribution of wealth is not the answer.

Biden: It's about fairness! No tax cuts for businesses. More taxes on the wealthy.


Health care: I'm not sure. Biden's response jumped all over the place. He threw a lot of numbers around and I didn't record it.



Palin: Unlike Obama, I took on oil companies, broke up a monopoly and got oil companies to pay taxes they were trying to get out of. She isn't popular with oil company CEO's.

Biden: Oil companies got $4 billion in tax breaks. They make billions, which is obscene.

Palin: Obama voted for those tax breaks. We need to do everything we can to ensure our energy supplies. But East Coast politicians won't let us tap our own resources, energy we have in abundance.


Climate change:

Palin: I do not attribute every change in the climate to man's activities, much of it is part of a natural cycle. But we still need to deal with it. Our energy policies have some effect on that, exporting our pollution to other countires.

Biden: Climate change is clearly totally man made. We should be investing money in alternative energy technologies, not drilling. Ten years until first well produces a drop of oil.

Palin: We want an 'all of the above' approach to energy independence.

Biden: McCain has voted against alternative energy technologies for 20 years.


Gay rights:

Biden: I believe there should be no restrictions for gay couples when it comes to rights and privileges.

Palin: I have done what others only talk about. But I don't support gay marriage.

Biden: Neither do I.



Palin: We cannot withdraw from Iraq prematurely, but we have been slowly dropping troop levels to below surge levels. Obama voted against the surge. He wanted a non-negotiable withdrawal timetable.

Biden: McCain voted against troop funding because of the timetable.

Palin: The 16 month withdrawal was nothing more than a white flag of surrender.

Biden: McCain voted against troop funding because of the timetable. (Yes, it's a repeat, but that's what he said, three times.) McCain has been wrong about Iraq (He repeated this four times).


Bigger threat – nuclear Iran or an unstable Pakistan?

Biden: Pakistan already has nuclear weapons. Iran getting them would be very destablizing. McCain says center of war against terror is Iraq, but it's in Pakistan. Attack on US won't come from Iraq. 7000 madrassas built in Pakistan. Instead should be building schools. We should go after bin Laden no matter where he's hiding.

Palin: General Petraeus and the leader of al Qaeda both agree it was the center. A nuclear Iran is far too do dangerous and unstable. Meeting with Ahmahdinejad or Kim Jong Il without conditions is not a smart thing. Israel is in jeopardy, and that can't be ignored, particularly when Iran has stated they will see it destroyed.

Biden: We should meet with our enemies! Our allies are on the same page. Former Secretaries of State agree. John McCain won't even meet with Spain, a NATO ally. (Biden keeps trying to tie McCain to Bush, implying McCain is no different than Bush.)

Palin: How is it that McCain, who has gone against Bush on many levels, is no different than Bush?


Use of nuclear weapons:

Palin: Rogue nations should not have such weapons. We should do what we can to deny them that type of weapon.

Biden: Afghanistan: Surge will not work in Afghanistan. We haven't spent nearly enough in Afghanistan as we have in Iraq. Nuclear: McCain voted against every anti-nuclear strategy.



Biden: Supported interventionism in Bosnia, thought going into Iraq a mistake but supported President, should go into Darfur to prevent genocide.

Palin: I guess I am a Washington outsider because I don't understand how you can vote for war before you voted against it. If you voted for it, explain why you did.

Biden: There is a line that must be drawn to prevent genocide. Iraq was wrong.

Palin: I disagree in regards to Iraq being wrong, but the handling of it was wrong.


If had to take over presidency:

Biden: God forbid it should come to that, but I would carry out Obama's policies, including replacement of the Bush Doctrine. This is the most important election since 1932!!

Palin: Heaven forbid, indeed! What do you expect from a team of mavericks? I would continue to do his work, putting government back on the side of the people, and get rid of corruption in Washington and Wall Street. We need to bring a bit of reality from Wasilla's Main Street brought to Washington DC so that people there can understand how the average working class family is viewing bureaucracy and the federal government and Congress and the inaction in Congress. Get out of our way!


At this point I was falling farther behind and couldn't keep up, so I didn't try.

My impression? I think Palin did well. As one of her Democratic opponents in Alaska warned Joe Biden, “She's in her element in debates, so do not underestimate her. She'll hand you your head and you'll wonder what happened.” She came across as the average American woman, the neighbor everyone likes, the type you want to invite over for a cookout.

Biden, on the other hand, came across as the 30+ year career politician he is. He was slick. He used many of the Washington buzz words and phrases we've all heard throughout darn near every presidential campaign. He was sincere, lawyerly, senatorial, even at times I believed he was wrong.

My call: Palin took this one, but she did not overwhelm Biden. But I think she proved she was “one of us” and not a Washington insider. I think we need someone from outside the Washington power elite to come to town, point out the things that seem stupid by saying, “Whoa! Look at that!s Isn't that silly?”

Credit Crisis? What Credit Crisis?

I keep hearing the media going on and on about how credit has dried up and loans aren't available for anyone, anywhere. That may be true in New York, Washington DC, and maybe host of other large cities throughout the nation. But it doesn't seem to be the case outside the big cities.

Most of the banks in smaller cities and outlying towns haven't seen the problems the bigger banks have been suffering. That's certainly true here in New Hampshire where local banks have reported they're not having any problems in regard to liquidity or providing credit.

As the national media continues to focus on what it is calling a credit crisis in the United States, local banks — which continue to lend money and grow their loan portfolios — are asking "what credit crisis?"

Neither Mark Primeau, president of Laconia Savings Bank, nor Sam Laverack, executive vice president of Meredith Village Savings Bank, denies that there is a problem on Wall Street — which Congress is currently attempting to fix through a $700 billion bailout.

But as they've been saying for weeks, Primeau and Laverack on Tuesday again stressed that "Main Street" banks are doing just fine, both in New Hampshire and especially here in the Lakes Region.

Those opinions are shared by New Hampshire Banking Commissioner Peter Hildreth, who pronounced that Granite State financial institutions are "safe and sound."

"When I talk to bankers and credit union folks, I hear a lot of them have been writing a record number of loans," said Hildreth, who is a Laconia native. "They're filling the voids left by some folks, the ones who caused the problems."

The local banks learned the lesson of overreaching themselves back in the early 1990's.

Back then the economy went into recession and the hot housing market collapsed, leading to the failure of five major New Hampshire banks when mortgages went unpaid and foreclosures were far more common than sales. During the housing boom, mortgages were seemingly handed out much like toilet paper by a bathroom attendant, and people were buying grossly overpriced houses and condos. When the recession hit, a lot of people with big mortgages, or even worse, were upside down on their mortgages, handed the keys to the bank and said “Good luck!” At its worse, some real estate values fell 60%, and the foreclosure rate climbed. During that time it wasn't uncommon to see twenty pages of foreclosure auctions in the Thrusday edition of the statewide newspaper. At one one point the Resolution Trust Company had over $1.3 billion (in 1992 dollars) of New Hampshire real estate to dispose of. They had to auction them off a few at a time, otherwise the already bad real estate market would have ceased to exist.

This time the local banks weren't so foolish. They didn't offer mortgages for 120% of the value of the home, didn't give sub-prime or interest-only mortgages, made sure the people applying for loans actually had the ability to pay them back, and very few, if any, borrowed money from Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac in order to finance risky mortgages. In other words, they didn't gamble with their depositors' money.

It's not just here that's seeing plenty of credit available to borrowers. In this report from NPR, the local bank in Floyd County, Virginia is in the same condition as the banks around here, having been very conservative with their depositors' money. They didn't fall into the trap that pushed so many larger banks to the brink and beyond.

To prove the credit crisis and the status of the economy is being overblown by the MSM, and Nancy Pelosi's claim the economy is the worst shape than during the Clinton Administration, Bob Krumm put their claims to the test and found they must be talking about some other country. (H/T Instapundit)

To test Nancy Pelosi’s hypothesis that after eight years of President Bush the economy is in far worse shape than it was under President Clinton at a time of “budget surpluses,” I went to Lending Tree to see what kind of mortgage terms I could get to buy my first home today.

So what kind of offer did I get today in the midst of this horrible financial crisis? I got four offers, the lowest of which was a 15-year fixed-rate VA mortgage of 6.0%, zero points and zero down, yielding a monthly payment of $948.20. Yes, that’s right, as bad as everyone says the economy is today, I can get the same mortgage as I had twelve years ago for about $250 a month less than I was paying 12 years ago in the midst of a “great” economy.

First, he was able to find a mortgage with little problem. Second, it was with better terms than his original mortgage 12 years ago. Hmm. That doesn't sound like a credit crisis or bad economy to me. But then, I'm not an economist or a member of the MSM, so what do I know?

Obviously, a lot more than they do.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

How To Ruin A State Economy In One Easy Step - Another Lesson

Back in May I wrote a cautionary tale about how easy it is to ruin a state's economy. The tale highlighted Michigan's efforts to drive the final nail in the coffin of their economy, raising taxes again and again to bolster falling revenues only to see revenues fall even further, widening an already horrendous budget deficit. Pro-labor/anti-business legislation didn't help things either. These things have had the effect of seeing twice as many people moving out of Michigan as are moving in, not something anyone in state government wants to see.

More than one state has fallen into that trap in the past and present. Some have done that more than once, proving Santayana right: ”Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.”

Connecticut is starting to feel the strain, as is Massachusetts, with incipient tax revolts brewing even as both states continue their profligate spending. Massachusetts should know better, having suffered through economic self-immolation back in the 1970's. But Governor Deval Patrick and the Massachusetts House and Senate seem bent on ensuring a return to those dire times. They've forgotten the lesson.

California is also in a mess, with a deficit measuring somewhere around $15 billion (that's “billion” with a “b”). Raising taxes will only deepen their problems, and businesses and taxpayers will soon start voting with their feet. It doesn't help that Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democratic-controlled Assembly are at loggerheads, with neither side willing to budge on spending cuts and tax increases.

But the best object lesson anyone can offer is the state of New Jersey, which was once considered one of the most business friendly states because of its low tax burden. But those days are long gone. Between one of the highest tax burdens in the nation and more restrictive business laws and regulations making it more difficult for businesses to survive, is it any wonder the Garden State is turning into an economic basket case?

Jersey’s decline has been rapid and astonishing. Back in the 1960s, one study judged it among the country’s ten most business-friendly states because of its light tax burden, which allowed it to attract a steady stream of businesses and residents from New York. Though there were occasionally signs of trouble over the years—like the pension shenanigans of Governor Christie Whitman, in which government shirked its long-term obligations—the state’s real decline started with the election of Jim McGreevey and a Democratic-controlled legislature in 2001.

In the middle of a recession, McGreevey and the legislature raised taxes and fees an astonishing 33 times to raise $3.6 billion. The state also passed a heap of labor-friendly, antibusiness laws that rapidly worsened conditions. The McGreevey administration hammered an executive at one of the state’s biggest employers, Federated Department Stores, for announcing that the new taxes would force the company to reevaluate future growth plans in Jersey. In 2002, the Beacon Hill Institute rated Jersey 26th among the states in overall competitiveness, but by 2004 Jersey had plummeted to 44th, the largest decline of any state, noted the institute, which also ranked Jersey’s government performance next to last among the states—in case you were wondering what prompted the decline.

Yet Jersey’s leaders have learned little. In 2006, the state enacted several billion dollars of new taxes. And Governor Jon Corzine recently signed into law one of the most astonishingly anti-growth and simply foolish (there is really no other word for it) pieces of state legislation in memory. The new law requires towns hosting private-sector commercial or residential development to build subsidized affordable housing as well. Towns say that they will have to tax developers and raise property taxes to pay for this. If you knew nothing about New Jersey, you might assume that the state was prospering and that its developers were rolling in money. But the state’s commercial vacancy rate is a whopping 19 percent (by contrast, Manhattan’s is about 7 percent), and prospects for filling up that empty space are slim, considering that a recent national survey of corporate executives ranked Jersey as one of the least attractive places to expand. A state in desperate need of business just made doing business even more expensive.

It's always a recipe for disaster, pissing off the folks that actually create jobs by stealing even more cash from their wallets while at the same time tying their hands when it comes to how they will run their businesses. You'd think that no one in New Jersey government had ever taken (and passed) an economics course. If the state government can't get its act together, cut spending, cut taxes, and shake off the influence of organized labor and other special interests, businesses and taxpayers will leave the Garden State in droves, heading to more business and taxpayer friendly states that will gladly welcome them.

Is it a coincidence the states suffering the most from these kinds of problems are controlled by Democratic majorities in their legislatures? Is it any coincidence most of the states having the biggest problems of this type also have Democratic governors? It's something to think about as we approach Election Day this November.

These examples should be, if nothing else, a warning to New Hampshire legislators, the governor, and every working man and woman in the state. Should New Hampshire go down the same road as the others we can kiss our jobs, homes, and way of life goodbye. The Democrats in the state see the Triple Crown (majorities in the New Hampshire House and Senate, as well as the governorship) as a license to spend like there's no tomorrow. They already managed to increase state spending by 17.5% for the current state budget without figuring out a way to pay for it. Their revenue estimates were overly optimistic even before the economy softened and the housing bubble deflated. Because of that we face a $200 million deficit.

The governor has already taken steps to cut back state spending and instructed department heads to prepare two budgets, one that is zero-change from their present budget, and one that cuts back from their present funding level. The question is whether the department heads will comply, and whether the legislators will comply to the wishes of the governor (and the taxpayers). Hopefully they will be held in check and will not be able to send us down the path to economic ruination as has happened in so many other states.

If I were more cynical than I already am, I'd say this budget crisis was created solely for the purpose of forcing a broadbased tax upon the people of New Hampshire by those licking their chops at the prospect of being able to push forward their liberal agenda and all the control over people's lives it will gain them. After all, we not among the Anointed aren't smart enough to make decisions for ourselves. At least, that's what they'd like us to believe. But the rest of us know better, don't we?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Town And State Budgets Getting Tight

The upcoming budget season for towns and cities here in the Granite State is going to be a tough one. It will be no less difficult for the state, with the governor calling for department heads to draw up two budgets: one tight, and the other tighter.

The word is out across New Hampshire: money is tight and it's going to get worse. Town officials know their residents are having a tough time of it, with much higher fuel and food prices. The last thing the people need is to worry about paying higher property taxes or fees. It comes down to a choice of cutting budgets or raising taxes, and towns are looking very hard to hold the line on spending.

But even town officials are feeling the effects of higher oil prices, with the cost of heating fuel, gasoline, diesel, and asphalt going up. Even if the overall town budgets do not increase, the towns will need to change priorities, shifting funds from other programs and departments in order to cover the increased energy costs. Some towns will defer maintenance on roads or other infrastructure for a year, hoping energy prices will fall or that the economy will recover sufficiently to take the strain off of the individual taxpayer's budgets.

One challenge both the state and the towns will have to meet is declining revenues. Revenues from building permits and vehicle registrations have fallen off as the economy has tightened, meaning even more work needed for the budgeting process.

At the state level, revenue projections from the last bloated budget were woefully optimistic, with the revenue shortfall expected to be $200 million by the end of the biennium. (The State of New Hampshire runs under a two-year budget.) With the drop in revenues from the same decrease in vehicle registrations, as well as fuel taxes, cigarette taxes, and a host of other user fees and business taxes, the state must tighten its belt, too. The governor ordered some spending cuts to reduce that shortfall, but more cuts will be needed to erase the rest of the deficit even if those cuts are made for the upcoming two-year budget. At this point raising taxes would be a non-starter, particularly if state legislators want to be re-elected this November.

Some hard choices will need to be made.

At the state level, rolling back the outrageous 17.5% budget increase of the present budget would be a good start. Much of the state revenue shortfall can be blamed on the oversized budget and the unrealistic revenue estimates used to justify the increases. (The revenue projections for 2007-2008 were unrealistic even without the big boost in energy prices and softening economy, so the blame cannot be laid entirely on those two issues.)

At the town and city level, the choices will be harder. The effects of budget cuts and tax increases are felt and seen in very shortly after they take effect. When budgets are cut oft times they lead to lay offs of town employees, reduction in overtime, reduction of office hours, cutbacks in extracurricular activities at the schools, loss of tutors and teaching assistants, and so on. Tax increases, particularly during troublesome economic times, leads to loss of homes by taxpayers unable to pay their property taxes. Businesses will defer paying their property taxes in order to offset increase costs and decreasing income in other areas. This leaves the towns in the lurch because revenues fall off even more. It's a Catch-22, with everyone in town caught in between. The town budgeting process will have to balance the two needs, perhaps erring on the side of caution and making painful cuts to town spending. But it's something everyone can understand, something most of us have had to do with our own budgets when money is tight. Non-essentials, the want-to-haves, are put aside to meet needs. And so it must go with town spending.

It's going to be interesting times around here for the next few months.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Universal Broadband Needed In New Hampshire

Yes, there is broadband access throughout the Lakes Region. But the question is, is there enough? Unfortunately the answer is no.

While Metrocast, Time Warner , and Comcast offer video, data, and in some areas, phone service, too many people in the towns they serve are left without the services they offer. It isn't that they can't afford it, it's that it isn't available at all.

A few years ago I was living in Plymouth off of Fairgrounds Road. The late, un-lamented Adelphia had a cable trunk running right past the end of my road. Everyone along the Fairgrounds Rd. and most living on the side roads off of it had cable and Internet service. But not me. Even though I could see the cable from my windows, even though my next door neighbor on Fairgrounds Road had access, I did not. Nor could I get it unless I laid out thousands of dollars to Adelphia to run a line from the road to my home, a distance of 250 feet. Unlike telephone service, cable service is not required to be universal. This means the cable franchise can bypass potential customers if they deem it isn't worth their while to extend their optical fiber/coax cable to them.

FairPoint, née Verizon, must provide phone service to anyone wanting it. They are required to provide universal service (at least on the phone side of things), even if they can't yet provide anything other than dial up Internet service. But as they expand their DSL service, they will offer to a majority of their customers. But even they will bypass some of their customers in regards to broadband service.

Sadly, even as broadband service expands throughout the Lakes Region and the rest of New Hampshire, there's another question that must be asked: Will the broadband technologies being deployed today be adequate for the demands of tomorrow? While there are those groups looking into this question, there are too few of us knowledgeable about telecommunications and future demands saying the answer is “no”. This is an issue that must be addressed by business, educational institutions, and workers to ensure that our local/state economy will not be crippled by inadequate broadband access.

At the moment many of us with broadband service can expect between 1 and 6 megabits per second download speeds and 256 kilobits to 1 megabit per second upload speeds for residential cable modem service, and between 128 kilobits to 2 megabits per second upload/download speeds for residential DSL service. For business class accounts cable modem and DSL speeds may be higher and symmetric (upload and download speeds are identical). Those without broadband service are stuck with 56 kilobit per second upload/download speeds with dial up service. (My in-laws are lucky if they get 33 kilobits per second with their dial up ISP in their home town.) At best DSL service will provide between 20 and 25 megabits per second, a blazing speed for today's demand, but hardly future proof.

Even with the 'blazing' broadband speeds presently available in the area, they will be inadequate in 5 years as new services become more popular, with Internet video being one of the fastest growing and most bandwidth intensive applications at present. The demand and the required bandwidth will quickly blow past the capabilities of the present telecommunications infrastructure as more video and data services become available to users. Six megabits per second download speeds will be too slow. 10, 20, maybe 50 megabits per second will be required for such things as IPTV (Internet Protocol TV), teleconferencing, telepresence (particularly crucial for medical applications), peer-to-peer networking, and a host of other applications that have barely made it out of the media and computer labs. And as even newer services become available, even 50 megabits per second will be too slow.

The cable companies are working to increase the speed of their Internet service and they may be able to come close to what other services like FTTH (Fiber-To-The-Home) can offer, but they won't surpass it.

If the telephone companies and cable companies aren't willing to step up to the plate to provide the needed telecommunications infrastructure in New Hampshire, then perhaps it is up to us to promote it, if not find a way to provide it. There are already groups of towns in Vermont and New Hampshire forming coalitions to build out FTTH networks, making sure everyone in those towns will have access, in other words, providing universal service.

If we want to attract businesses, entrepreneurs, and telecommuters to the state, and particularly the Lakes Region, we need a 21st Century telecommunications infrastructure. At best we have a late 20th Century telecommunications system, and a barely adequate one. This must change.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Yankee Attitude

I stole the piece below from The Barrister over at Maggie's Farm. It pretty well explains the feelings of a lot of us Yankees up here in New Hampshire, particularly those wishing to maintain the N'Hampsha' way of life, the feeling of community that so many other places have lost and aren't likely to regain any time soon. (Note: The Barrister resides in Connecticut, but the same principals apply there as here. We've both seen seen changes in our respective towns that are not to the betterment of the townsfolk, or the town.)

Unless they happen to be in the tourist trade or the mini-mart business, the Yankee native does not tend to welcome visitors to his corners of the woods. Maybe this applies to all of small-town USA.

You get the feeling that the old families don't welcome out-of-towners, much less furriners. And whenever they see a New York license plate in town, they worry and grumble. I'm sorry, but it's just the way the folks are: "Please respect our space and our ways and we will try to tolerate yours as long as you keep them somewhere else."

City people might term it parochial, but it's actually a strong sense of proprietorship and protectiveness towards something valuable - "Our town."

I guess we like things as they are, or, preferably, as they were. The old-timers still refer to my place as "Peck's farm," even though old Amos Peck, the fourth generation on that land and a member of a founding family of the town, ascended to his reward in 1932 and his kids sold the old chicken and dairy farm to a dairy farmer down the road who was looking to expand his herd. One wonders whether there is a covert message in it: "You don't really belong there - you are just a transient with a mortgage."

It takes two to three generations at minimum, I think, to get past being a newcomer. To be an old family, I'd guess five generations minimum. (That makes sense to me. It is an indication that your family might be committed to the town, and not just passing by the way people often do these days, viewing land as real estate rather than as a place to anchor for your future generations.)

Yes, it's about different views of land and of "place". Ideally, your ancestors would have helped build our simple 1742 Meeting House/Congregational Church, which remains the only place of worship for seven miles.

That pretty well explains how it is up here in New England, and northern New England in particular.

I've lived in small towns where change comes slowly, and then only after lengthy discussions and deliberations. I've always been welcomed in every town I've resided, usually because some of the folks in town already knew me through business or other friends, and because of my reputation as a cheap...uh...frugal fellow, not wanting to spend what the town didn't have, and in some cases, didn't need. I've never been one for change for change's sake. But I've also been a proponent for change when it met the town's needs or saved the town money or made the town government or schools more efficient.

While I knew I'd never be a real 'native' in those towns, I was never seen as a “flatlander”, a title that can hang around a resident's neck like the proverbial albatross. No one takes flatlanders seriously, mainly because they bring too damn much of their city foolishness with them, wanting to fiddle with the way things are because they aren't like “back home”. That always beggers the question, “If things were so great 'back home', then why the heck did you come here?”

This gets me thinking I'm going to have to repost more of my instructional scribblings about how things are in small town America, particularly around here in northern New England (Well, more New Hampshire and Maine. Vermont has got problems of its own with all the silly New Yorkers moving in.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Severe Weather Hits New Hampshire

While my home state of New Hampshire is rarely in the national news spotlight, we did make it into a number of the evening network news broadcasts today due to the severe weather that hit the state today.

Starting just before noon, a number of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes swept through four of the eastern counties, causing damage to over 100 homes, destroying six, and killing one person. Damage and power outages were reported in Epsom, Barnstead, Deerfield, Alton, and Wolfeboro.

Deb and I managed to miss the worst of the storms, traveling in and out of the areas hit before they arrived.

It's not often we see tornadoes in New Hampshire, yet twice in less than a week funnel clouds have formed and today they touched down. We've had weather stuck in a pattern of high humidity and late afternoon/early evening thunderstorms for more almost two weeks. I'm not surprised we've ended up at least a few funnel clouds.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Work Now For Lower Energy Prices Tomorrow

Will Congress actually do something about energy prices, or will they continue making bleating noises while pointing fingers, and in the end, accomplish nothing? Unfortunately it appears the former is more likely than the latter. At least on Republican knows this and is trying to do something about it.

Senaotr John Sununu (R-NH) brings up some interesting points about what's really needed, reminding us of what's come before and how little has changed over the years since the last energy crunch.

I remember the oil spikes of 1973, 1980 and 1990. Time and circumstances may have changed, but families and small businesses in New Hampshire feel it just the same. Higher prices for heating oil, gas, and propane drain budgets and hurt the economy. This challenge, like those past, can and must be overcome.

While the date has changed, the proposals from the far left have not: Increase energy taxes, start a lawsuit, ignore the potential of nuclear power, and above all, oppose all new production of American oil and gas.

And to top it off, they'll try to convince us it's for our own good, but not actually get around to explaining why, other than to say we wouldn't understand. I guess that shows us what it is they think of the rest of us. You know...the un-enlightened. Never mind that most of the so-called un-enlightened are far more intelligent than they are because we actually understand the problems most of us face and know how to solve them without the help of the government and, most important, without them.

Maybe it's time to give them a dose of reality.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

USS New Hampshire Christened

For the first time since the beginning of the 20th a US Navy vessel bears the name USS New Hampshire.

The Virginia-class nuclear submarine was christened at the General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard in Groton, Connecticut on Saturday. The new submarine is the fifth in the new fast attack class and will be commissioned at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in New Hampshire this October.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Motorcycle Week Has Begun

The rumble of motorcycles have been heard all day as the 85th Annual Laconia Motorcycle week begins. Even with the increase in gas prices and a somewhat sluggish economy, almost 300,000 motorcycle enthusiasts are expected to visit New Hampshire over the next nine days.

Laconia is one of the Big Three motorcycle rallies, with Daytona and Sturgis being the other two.

While most of the visitors will focus on the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, a number of other areas of the state have been working to attract some of those visitors. Over the past few years they've succeeded, drawing a larger crowd every year.

About the only downside to all these motorcycles being here will be the constant rumble they create as they travel about the area. Even here at The Manse we'll hear them as they wend their way along the roads that follow the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee.

It is this event that I see as the true beginning of the summer season, one to which I look forward every June.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A Major Meltdown

It's been a while since I've posted. It's not that I've been too lazy. Quite the contrary.

My main blog, Weekend Pundit, suffered a major meltdown. The server which hosted the blog was in a server farm that suffered a devastating fire, destroying the server where Weekend Pundit abided. It's been a scramble to keep things running, switching operations to the Weekend Pundit Backup Site and making arrangements for Weekend Pundit at a new host and new domain. The link at the left now points to the new site, which is still a work in progress. At present it is a bare bones configuration as I work to move six year's worth of posts and images from my back ups to the new blog site. Needless to say there have been some teething problems, but I am getting them worked out. In the mean time I'm posting at both the new site and the backup site.

Now that most of the major work is done I can get back to post here as well. There are lots of issues I want to vent about that aren't necessarily aimed at an international or national audience, making them perfect for this blog.

Regular blogging will resume presently.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

How To Ruin A State Economy In One Easy Step

Why is it the first thing government thinks of doing in case of a budget shortfall is to raise taxes? It rarely occurs to The-Powers-That-Be to cut spending in order to roll expenditures back enough to match what income there is. It happens at town, county, state and federal level all too often. What's worse is when there's also a soft economy and tax revenues fall off. Somehow government thinks that pulling even more money out of the economy will make things better. Every time government has done that it only makes the situation worse and revenues fall even farther. It sets up a vicious cycle. I've seen this before.

Back in the mid to late 70's, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was suffering from a growing tax burden and the erosion of its economy as a deep recession caused high unemployment. Every time the Commonwealth raised taxes, unemployment rose. Companies, large and small, left the state, looking for greener (and less expensive) pastures. The old joke back then went “Would the last person leaving Massachusetts please turn off the lights?”

We're seeing the same thing again, thirty years later, but this time in Michigan.

It's no fun to kick a state when it's down – especially when the local politicians are doing a fine job of it – but the latest news of Michigan's deepening budget woe is a national warning of what happens when you raise taxes in a weak economy.

Officials in Lansing reported this month that the state faces a revenue shortfall between $350 million and $550 million next budget year. This is a major embarrassment for Governor Jennifer Granholm, the second-term Democrat who shut down the state government last year until the Legislature approved Michigan's biggest tax hike in a generation. Her tax plan raised the state income tax rate to 4.35% from 3.9%, and increased the state's tax on gross business receipts by 22%. Ms. Granholm argued that these new taxes would raise some $1.3 billion in new revenue that could be "invested" in social spending and new businesses and lead to a Michigan renaissance.

Not quite. Six months later one-third of the expected revenues have vanished as the state's economy continues to struggle. Income tax collections are falling behind estimates, as are property tax receipts and those from the state's transaction tax on home sales.

Gee, they raise taxes during a weak economy, and what happens? Their revenues fall. No surprise there. Jobs and residents have voted with their feet, with twice as many people moving out of Michigan as are moving in. As taxes go higher the trend will only steepen. They're stuck in a vicious cycle, apparently unable to do the one thing necessary to turn things around: cut spending.

The same thing could happen here in New Hampshire. The legislature passed a biennial budget which included a 17.5% increase in expenditures. There's only one thing they forgot.

How to pay for it.

The budget's already over $50 million in the red, with a projected deficit of $200 million before the end of the biennium. The legislature did raise some taxes, but the revenues projected to be raised fell short. Other tax revenues have also been below projections. The governor did order a hiring freeze and directed all department heads to cut their budgets in an effort to stanch the slow of red ink.

A few tax-and-spend groups have been calling for a state sales or income tax to make up for the shortfall, but we all know the legislature will find new an interesting ways to spend the money and the budget will still be out of balance. So they'll raise them...and revenues will fall, leaving an even bigger revenue shortfall. It's that vicious cycle all over again.

The only answer is to cut spending and roll back the tax increases imposed at the beginning of the biennium. The only thing the state legislature here needs to do is look to Michigan to see how well its program of increasing taxes is working. Maybe they'll get the message. But that's not likely.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Memorial Day Weekend - Saturday

It's near the end of the first day of Memorial Day weekend and, despite reports in the media, it appears traffic and visits to the Lakes Region is heavy, though maybe not as it has been in past years.

The family was here at The Manse to celebrate my Dad's 75th birthday, and every one of my siblings said the traffic was quite heavy, particularly those making the trip up from the Boston area. Deb said the local supermarket was mobbed, as was the farm stand at the farm where BeezleBub works.

Tomorrow I will brave the waters of Lake Winnipesaukee, as I will be launching The Boat in the morning. It will be interesting to see if high gas prices will have any effect on boat traffic.

I'm betting it will.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A New Hope

It appears the state of New Hampshire is finally waking up to the problem the lack of workforce housing has been causing and doing something about it. Despite the housing boom that took place over the last few years, very little of the housing built over that time was for low and middle income families in towns and cities where they were needed. Without this kind of housing potential employees cannot find a place to live anywhere near where they are hoping to work. Employers are finding it difficult to fill jobs because affordable housing isn't available. With increasing oil and gas prices local housing is becoming even more important.

One of the roadblocks to such housing has been the cities and towns themselves, many of which made it difficult to build anything but senior housing or more upscale single family homes. The only way developers could build that type of housing was to take the municipality to court to force them to comply with the state's anti-snob zoning laws and court decisions. Most developers won't spend the time or money to do this, taking on less controversial jobs and developments. Unfortunately that leaves far too many people without a place to live and employers with jobs going unfilled. If the problem gets bad enough, employers will relocate to places where they can fill jobs. That's nothing anyone in New Hampshire wants. Now it appears the state is finally taking steps to alleviate this problem.

The New Hampshire Senate on Wednesday agreed to some improvements by the House to Senate Bill 342 that now goes to Gov. John Lynch for his signature.

"We have been working for years to pass this kind of legislation to remove barriers that have made it difficult to expand the availability of workforce housing," said Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, the prime sponsor of SB342. "This bill is long overdue and we should all be proud of its passage."

SB342 embraces a major goal of the state's Business and Industry Association, which identified expanded opportunities for workforce housing as a top priority this year.

"The lack of varied housing poses a threat to our state's economy by making it difficult to expand our workforce or attract new businesses," said Senate President Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord. "Our workers are the backbone of our economy and we need to ensure they have decent and affordable options for housing."

This is something that was long overdue.

It's been a problem in the Granite State for the last 20 years or so, where one town after another enacted zoning ordinances making it difficult, if not impossible for developers to build the kind of housing needed. Too many towns believed the old canard about every family moving into town added two kids to the schools, and hence to the tax burden. Therefore senior housing and higher end homes were preferred because in the town's view they didn't burden them with more kids or could afford the higher taxes that more than offset the cost of more kids entering the school system. But the towns were wrong and in the long run they hurt themselves and the businesses located there and in nearby towns.

Now there's a chance to change that and make sure the Granite State's economic future is a good one.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Eight New Hampshire Towns To Build FTTH Network

It looks like a group of towns in New Hampshire has decided not to wait for Fiber To The Home to come to them, something unlikely to happen any time soon. Instead they've banded together in an effort to build their own network.

Town officials in western New Hampshire are planning a trip to southern Virginia to get a firsthand look at a municipal fiber optic network similar to the one they'd like to deploy.

The network could provide communication, entertainment and data-transfer services in the region. comprises eight towns - Orford, Lyme, Hanover, Enfield, Springfield, New London, Sunapee and Newbury - that seek to bring about construction of a fiber optic network that would be operated by a third-party service provider.

It's something other towns should consider if they want to have a 21st communications infrastructure.

Fiber To The Home will to more than provide very high speed data communications, telephone, and video services to residents. It will also attract new businesses and new residences.

This is something Gilford and the other towns in the Lakes Region should seriously consider.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Open Office Rocks!

While this has nothing to do directly with either Gilford or New Hampshire, I figured it was still germane to the New Hampshire way. In other words it's about being frugal with your money. We do tend to be frugal here (but not the legislature, that's for sure).


Glenn Reynolds made mention of Open Office, a free office suite that I've been using for the past few years. While the first version I downloaded and installed some years ago, Open Office 1.1, wasn't exactly perfect, it was far better than nothing at all. Since then it has improved greatly to the point where I prefer it over Bill Gates' flawed Microsoft Office.

I presently use Open Office 2.4 on both my Windows and Linux machines and I find it to be far more useful to me than MS Office (I use MS Office at work). While it doesn't have all the bells and whistles of MS Office, it does do everything I want or need it to do, and does it well. But the one biggest kudo I have for Open Office is that it doesn't try to help me or automatically format a document I'm working on when I don't want it to. That is one of Microsoft Office's biggest annoyances, that it “knows better” what I want to do than I do. I've lost count of how many times I've had to undo something MS Office insisted I wanted to do even though I had no intention of doing what MS Office did for me.

Other than a few obscure functions available in MS Office, I haven't found anything that I do in MS Office at work that I can't do in Open Office. In many cases Open Office does it better.

These days I steer friends to Open Office if they're in the market for an Office suite. If nothing else the price is right: Free!

(Cross posted at Weekend Pundit)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Guide To Country Living - Part I

NOTE: This post originally appeared in my main blog, Weekend Pundit, a few years ago after a number of folks commented to some posts I made about the differences between rural and urban dwellers. I've updated the original posts, of which this is the first. I've also added links to other blogs covering different aspects of some of the topics I'm covering.


It appears that once again I must delve into the mysteries of how urban dwellers and Flatlanders can adapt to life in a rural state, particularly New Hampshire. Much of what I'll cover also applies to Maine and, to a lesser extent, Vermont. You're on your own when it comes to other rural states, particularly those down south. Each area of the country has its own rules when it comes to country living, but there are also some universal rules that apply no matter which state you finally end up living in.

One thing most newcomers have to get used to is something called neighborliness. Bogie pretty much covers the subject of newcomer cluelessness in her tale about a new neighbor, who happens to be the living definition of 'clueless'.

It seems the person in question, before moving in, is going to have a security system installed. This is bad. It implies that he doesn’t trust the neighbors. This is a place where doors are not locked, even when people are gone on vacation. My customer [...] even leaves her front door wide open when no one is home.

This in a state with a very low crime rate. Usually the people we have to worry about aren't our neighbors, but people from somewhere else. (I lived up in the town of Plymouth for a few years and I never locked the door to my home the entire time I lived there. Not once.) It makes one wonder what this new neighbor might be up to. On the other hand, maybe it's the urban dweller paranoia, understandable considering some states where these former urban dwellers hail from make it very difficult to legally defend oneself in their own homes.

There are a lot of topics about 'country living' I can cover, many of which I've briefly written about before. But sometimes you have to repeat the lesson more than once before the information sinks in. Here's a list of Do's and Don'ts of country living. These are in order of descending importance, kinda sorta:

Once you've made the move to your new town, don't feel bashful about introducing yourselves to your neighbors, assuming they haven't already introduced themselves while they helped you unload the moving van. That's assuming of course that you actually have neighbors. In some places here in the Granite State your nearest neighbor might be a half mile or more down the road.

Make the acquaintance of the Town Clerk, Tax Collector (many times it's the same person), the Police Chief, the Fire Chief, and at least one of the Selectman (or Town Councilor, depending upon the form of town government). This helps grease the skids and let's them know you're not too snooty to mingle with the locals.

Go to the dump. Many small towns have no garbage pickup and it's up to you to haul you're own trash to the dump/transfer station/etc. Don't hire someone else to do it for you because people will think two things – 1) you're too damn lazy or snobbish to do it yourself; and 2) you really aren't interested in town politics/social activities/etc. The one thing you have to realize is that in many small towns 90% of all town business is conducted at the dump, not the weekly Selectman's or Budget Committee meeting. If you want to find out what's going on in town, the dump is the place to go. (I have to admit to some backsliding on this one, though recently I've started hauling my own trash and recyclables again. Frankly, it's now cheaper for me to haul my own than to pay someone else to do it, high gas prices and all.)

Read the weekly local paper. This is another place to find out when and where some of the social activities will be taking place. Also take close note of the Want Ads. You'll be amazed at some of the stuff you'll find there and can save yourself a bundle of cash when you're looking for that extra refrigerator or freezer or lawn mower or whatever.

Go to Town Meeting. This is very important. It only happens once a year so there's no excuse for not attending. Town meeting allows you to socialize as well as help decide what the town will spend in the coming year. Your first one or two years you should just listen and observe how things are done. If you can, latch on to somebody who can explain the whole thing to you. This will drastically shorten the learning curve.

Also, read the Town Report, usually mailed out to everyone in town well before town meeting. This gives you an idea of what the townspeople voted for and against the previous year as well as a list of what folks will be voting on this year.

And one last thing when it comes to town meeting: Never ever preface a statement with the phrase “Back where I/we come from....” This is the kiss of death for a newcomer. People in your new town don't care about where you came from, at least not during a debate over some warrant article. You're here now. If you insist on this kind of social suicide, be prepared to be immediately branded a “Flatlander” and never taken seriously again. (Note: There is only one exception to this rule – The phrase can be safely used if what you're going to say is going to be used as an example of why the town shouldn't vote for something. “Back where I come from, the town tried this and it was an utter disaster. It cost the town a ton of money to fix. Do you really want to do the same thing?”)

Find out which place serves the best breakfasts, then go there. Lots of people will dine out on Saturday or Sunday mornings. Ask them what place they'd recommend. You can make good contacts while schmoozing with the waitresses, cooks, or other patrons.

Use local contractors. Never mind that fancy construction firm, plumber, or electrician you've done business with in the past. Ask around and find somebody local. You'll find that they're just as good as the ones 'back home' and they'll probably cost less, too. They'll also be willing to come right out in an emergency. Sometimes the best places to ask is at that diner where you now have breakfast on Saturday mornings, or at town hall, or at the fire station. They'll know who's good and who to avoid.

If you're sending your kids to the local school, make sure you get involved with the school activities, and particularly the PTA or PTO. Get to know your kid's teachers. See them more often than just during parent-teacher conferences.

Get rid of the Lexus/BMW/Mercedes/Jaguar and get a more practical vehicle. Or if you're going to keep it, use it only when traveling long distance or on special occasions. SUVs are OK to a point (no Cadillac Escalades or Lincoln Navigators and the like), but pickup trucks are better. (It also makes it easier to haul your trash to the dump). A 4X4 pickup is even better, particularly during the winter as well as mud season.

Get used to the idea of dirt roads. Most small towns have 'em and many have more than a few. Don't expect the town to pave them just for your convenience. Most times it's cheaper to leave dirt roads as dirt roads. The town will grade them a couple of times a year to keep them from becoming too bumpy or rutted.

Get used to the idea of dark. You won't necessarily find streetlights along roads in many small towns except near the town center and at a couple of intersections. It can get dark, and I mean really dark at night. When you look up you'll be amazed at the number of stars you can see. Please try to keep it that way. The last thing you're neighbors need or want is you lighting up your property like Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium. It will just annoy them and spoil the view of the night sky. (Note: I covered this since the original post at Weekend Pundit. A Flatlander from south of Boston bought a second home just up the road from us. He left the outside lights on his new place all the time whether he and his family were there or not, lighting up his home and surrounding area just like the aforementioned Fenway Park. I finally got the chance to ask him why he did this. His answer was that he thought it would keep burglars away. My answer to him was that all it did was make it easier for the burglars to see what they were doing. If he was that concerned, he could put in an alarm system which, in the long run, would be cheaper than keeping all the lights on. Since that talk he leaves the most of lights off.)

There are farms in small towns and they sometimes produce interesting smells. Get used to them. They've been here a lot longer than you and this is their livelihood. They won't take kindly to a newcomer trying to tell them what they should and should not be doing.

Sometimes there are also logging operations going on in some towns out in the country. Sometimes you'll see very big trucks loaded down with lots of logs. Get out of their way. With a full load they aren't going to stop very quickly and unless you're also driving a logging truck any argument over who has the right of way will end with them winning and you losing, big time.

Hunting is a fact of life. If you're a bunny-hugger and think hunting is wrong, keep it to yourself. Hunting is necessary to keep deer, moose, bear, and other wildlife populations in check. If you don't want hunters on your property all you have to do is post the proper signs at the proscribed height and intervals along the edge of your property. Also, don't go traipsing through the forest or fields wearing brown and white clothing during hunting season. It's a good way to end up dead or wounded. If you insist on taking your nature hikes during hunting season, remember these two words – International Orange. Vests and hats of this color are your best friend. So what if they make you look fat. At least you'll be alive to bitch about it.

Snow tires, your winter friend. Despite having your car/truck shod with all-season radials, you'll find that a good set of snow tires is worth the investment if you live in a part of the country where annual snowfall is measured in feet rather than inches. All-season radials are a compromise at best. Snow tires just plain work better in the snow. They can mean the difference between making it home safely or ending up in a ditch waiting for someone to (hopefully) pull you out before you become a corpsicle. Investing in a good set of tire chains is also suggested, but not required.

Food, particularly baked goods are always appreciated at the local firehouse, police station, town highway department, and town hall.

Bean suppers and pancake breakfasts are a mainstay of country living, whether they're put on by church groups, volunteer fire departments, or organizations like the Elks, the Masons, Odd Fellows, or others. They are good places to meet other townspeople, get a decent meal, and support community charities or civic associations. It's what's called 'networking', only you're doing it on a more personal level.

And yet another food related subject, in this case pizza and Chinese food deliveries – Don't count on it.

Gasoline, home heating oil, and propane. These will all become far more important to you than they have in the past, particularly in the winter months. You will learn to keep your gas tank at least half full. There are a number of reasons for this, one of the most important being your survival if you get caught out on the road in a winter storm. You will also learn the true worth of home heating oil and propane. Deliveries of these staples can be few and far between if you don't plan ahead. And if you don't plan well enough, you'll come to know your plumber all too well (frozen and/or burst water pipes).

Wells and septic systems are all you'll find in most small country towns. Many don't have a municipal water supply or sewage treatment plant. Your well is your water supply and the septic system takes care of your waste water. You will also become familiar the following terms: leach field, distribution box, Rid-X, submersible pump, well head, water softener, dry well, and pressure tank.

Cell phone service- In your dreams....

Home security systems aren't really required unless your 'security system' consists of one or two middling to large dogs. As Bogie pointed out earlier, those fancy electronic systems send the wrong message to your neighbors. In this case it's “I don't trust any of you...” (See exception under 'Get used to the idea of dark')

I could go on and on ad infinitum, but I think you catch the drift. If, after reading this, you still want to move to 'the country', then you're probably cut out for it. If any of this gives you the heebie-jeebies, then I suggest you keep your experiences of living in the country to those one or two weeks a year when you're on vacation.

More to follow.....

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Gilford Board Of Selectmen Torpedoes the FPC...Again

I have to wonder what was running through the minds of the Gilford Board of Selectmen during yesterday's meeting.

In March the voters of Gilford decided the Facilities Planning Committee should receive $150,000 to put towards the completion of plans for the addition to and renovation of the police station. The FPC had hoped to work with the architect – Stewart Associates of Gilford– to complete those plans and to work with the original general contractor – Horne Construction of Rochester – to come up with a firm will-not-exceed price.

Unfortunately Stewart Associates could not continue as their workload would not allow full participation. This was understandable as the project was left up in the air at the end of December and Stewart Associates had fulfilled their requirements under Phase I of the original contract and Phase II had been postponed for at least a year. They booked other jobs and were no longer available to complete the plans for Phase II.

Town Counsel had been asked whether continuing this project was possible considering the Board of Selectmen's actions last December, putting aside efforts to bring the project before the voters at the 2008 Town Meeting. Town Counsel said there was nothing that would prevent the town's FPC from going forward with the general contractor to complete the plans and cost estimates. All that was required was the OK from the Board of Selectmen. Freshman Selectman Kevin Hayes saw no issue with such a move and brought it before the Board...

..which promptly turned it down and directed the FPC to go back to square one, sending out new bids for a new architect and new contractor. With this decision 15 months of work and almost $50,000 of taxpayer money was flushed down the toilet. (See Laconia Sun article below)

Bidding a new architect will take a minimum of 6 weeks, with 9 weeks being the most likely time line. During that time the FPC will be able to get little if anything done because it cannot go forward without an architect. Once one is selected, it will take between 4 and 8 weeks to complete the plans started under Stewart Associates. Then another 6 to 8 weeks to qualify contractors and to put out a bid to those contractors. After that the selected contractor and the FPC will need time to work on refining the costs of the project. Not counting the last part, which could take an additional 4 to 6 weeks, that takes the time line of this project out to the end of September/beginning of October, a good month or more past the Labor Day deadline requested by the Board of Selectmen. And that's assuming everything goes right the first time. If everything on the time line takes the longest portion of the estimates, we're now out to the end of October, meaning the Board of Selectmen won't see the 'end product' until November or early December, which still leaves us exactly where the FPC was last December, except that an additional $150,000 taxpayers dollars will have been spent.

The impression I'm getting is that two-thirds of the Board of Selectmen really don't want this project to go forward. They certainly showed enough neglect of the project over the 15 months the FPC labored to put the proposal together for a 2008 vote. Even with the addition of Selectman Kevin Hayes to the FPC, I have my doubts the committee can pull the plan together in the less than five months before the September deadline.

But hey, it's only the taxpayer's money, right? If need be we can continue until 2010 and spend another big bag of taxpayer's money with nothing to show for it. And then do it again in 2011. And again in 2012.

Click on image for larger view.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Even Government Has To Tighten Its Belt

When economic times get tough people tighten their belts a bit and open their wallets less often. The same is true of businesses, cutting back on expenses and costs until business improves. At times, even government tightens the purse strings a bit.

I wish someone would tell this joker about it.

Taxpayers are hurting. They have to cut their own budgets to deal with the rising cost of food and fuel, and many are experiencing reductions in their income. [Manchester, NH School Superintendent] Aliberti's position is: Tough. You have to pay more because I refuse to cut spending.

School budgets cannot be immune from downturns in the economy. They have to face economic reality just as the rest of us do. And the reality is, the city doesn't have the money to provide the same level of funding it has in the past. So the schools have to make do.

I think maybe it's time for the taxpayers to show this jerk the door. It's the taxpayers footing the bills and it's about time this fellow realize they have nothing left to give. The piggy bank is empty and the schools will have to bite the bullet, just like everyone else.

UPDATE 4/9/08: The joker responds.

Frankly, I am not surprised. Every other department in the city is expected to cut expenses, yet somehow this fellow thinks the schools are inviolate.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Verizon/FairPoint Deal Is Done. What's Next?

Now that the sale of Verizon's northern New England wireline business to FairPoint Communications has been completed, the customers are waiting with bated breath to see if we've been sold a bill of goods.

Being intimately tied into the telecommunications industry due to my job, I must say I still have reservations about the deal.

First, FairPoint bought into a shrinking market, where the number of wired telephone lines has been falling off while cell phone usage has gone up. The increased cell usage has been influenced by expanded cell coverage and competitive pricing. Some people no longer have wired phones, using cell phones exclusively. Wired business lines have little or no growth. Anyone with even a little business knowledge knows that one of the ways to ensure going out of business is to buy an increasing share of a decreasing market.

Second, I think they may have overestimated how much business they'll pick up as they expand DSL service to previously unserved or underserved areas in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. There will be an upsurge of new customers to start, but competitors will be hot on their heels offering faster/better/cheaper service in the somewhat more densely populated rural areas, which are FairPoint's 'low hanging fruit'. Competitors in this case will most likely be wireless for Internet and VoIP phone service, and municipal alliances wiring their towns with Fiber To The Home, which can provide phone, Internet and video services with bandwidth far exceeding that of the DSL service being offered by FairPoint.

Third, FairPoint is a small company buying into an operation that is five times larger than its existing business. I don't know if they have a management team capable of handling such a large undertaking. While I've heard little in the way of negative impressions of FairPoint management, I've also heard nothing positive about it either. Within the industry it's much the same - nobody seems to know anything about them. It's a crapshoot, and I don't like that when it comes to such an important utility.

I'll take a wait-and-see stance and see how the whole thing turns out. But I have a feeling we'll all be feeling we've been fleeced in a $2.3 billion con game and we'll have little to show for it.

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Gilford FPC Moves Forward

Gilford's Police Facilities Planning Committee held it's first meeting following the town elections on March 11th.

Frankly, I have a feeling the FPC will be able to complete its assigned tasks now that it has a regular representative from the town's Board of Selectmen in the form of freshman Selectman Kevin Hayes.

Let's hope they can pull it off and get our police station built.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Verizon/FairPoint Deal Hits A Snag

It appears the Verizon/FairPoint deal hit a snag.

The meltdown in the financial market has hit close to home, causing an unexpected rise in the cost of financing for the Verizon/FairPoint sale. The interest at the time the deal was struck was expected to be 8%, but rose to 13.125%, which would add about $27 million in interest payments every year. This increase puts the financials into question, which triggered meetings of the Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont Public Utilities Commissions to discuss the issue.

Neither state PUC has made any decisions about any additional actions to be taken in light of the changes. However, the New Hampshire PUC has given its approval of the deal even with the increased costs of the sale.

Frankly, I am dismayed the NHPUC didn't take this opportunity to delay the deal. There are still too many unanswered questions, and I believe the consumers in all three states will end up with a substandard and soon to be obsolescent telecommunications infrastructure using older, non-upgradeable technology. Northern New England may end up a broadband hinterland, something that will have a negative effect on our respective state economies.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Gas Prices And Boat Traffic This Summer

One of the questions making the rounds on the forum is whether high gas prices will affect boat traffic out on the lake this coming summer. (I have a confession to make: I started that thread on the forum.)

If gas prices on the lake, meaning the marinas, hits $4.50 per gallon or higher, I have no doubt boat traffic on the lake will be much lower than in the past. Just last summer, when gas prices were about $3.50 per gallon, the number of boats out on Winnipesaukee on July weekends was small. On more than one weekend during that month my family and I were able to venture out on the lake on a Saturday afternoon without the fear of being slammed around by wake-driven chop. More than once we were able to cross the Broads with nary a ripple to be seen from any direction. For anyone familiar with boating on the lake you'll know how unusual that is.

The boat traffic didn't rebound until August and even then it was down from what we usually see.

Could this upcoming summer be a repeat of the last one?

Friday, March 21, 2008

High Speed Broadband Needed

One part of my campaign platform when I ran for Selectman in Gilford was the need for an up to date, future-proof broadband telecommunications network. In order for our town to attract future businesses and future residents, as well retain existing businesses and stop the brain drain of younger residents leaving New Hampshire for high tech jobs, we need to make sure our telecommunications infrastructure is up to the task. At present the existing broadband infrastructure in Belknap, Carrol, and southern Grafton Counties is barely adequate in towns where it exists. Even in towns that do have broadband connectivity, coverage is not universal, such as it is with telephone service. This is something that needs to change.

One thing that is evident is that the existing telephone and cable companies won't be stepping up to the plate any time soon. FairPoint Communications, née Verizon, will be deploying DSL in areas presently not being served by broadband. Unfortunately DSL is old technology and will be incapable of providing bandwidth future Internet applications and services will require. The cable companies can come close, but their timetable for deploying higher speed Internet connectivity puts off the necessary upgrades to years in the future. They have no pressing need to upgrade any time soon because they have no credible competition. Maybe it's time they get some.

If we can't get the existing providers to step up and give the towns 21st Century connectivity, then it's up to us, the residents of the Lakes Region, to do it instead.

What I'm talking about is a public/private partnership to build a Fiber To The Home (FTTH) network, providing universal broadband service to every resident wanting it.

If done properly it will end up costing the towns nothing in the way of tax money to build out the networks. And before you ask, it can be done because it has been done elsewhere.

One of the latest efforts to build a network in an underserved rural area is just across the Connecticut River in Vermont.

The East Central Vermont Community Fiber Network is one of the first regional efforts to bring Fiber-to-the-Home to as many as 25 towns from Williamstown to Hartford, Vermont. Work is now underway to create the legal entity for this project. Each town in the region will be given the opportunity to join the network.

By working together:
- we can insure that the most modern high-speed service is available to ALL residents of central Vermont towns.
- costs will be much lower than they would be for individual town efforts.
- our financing package can be negotiated; town bonding will not be required.
The current plan is to move forward as soon after the 2008 Town Meeting as possible. First service to participating towns could follow in a period as soon as 12-14 months.

I believe we here in the Lakes Region should follow a similar course. While the conditions that will define what we need maybe be somewhat different than those in Vermont, they are similar enough that we can follow a lot of their plans to get us where we need to be. It is something we should seriously consider.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Damn Flatlanders

We have a number of terms for folks that move “from away” into one of our towns, set up housekeeping, and then start working to change the very things that made the town of their choice so attractive to them. We call them flatlanders, carpetbaggers, Massholes (specific to flatlanders from Massachusetts), and “totally effin' clueless.”

I've seen more than my share over the years and they have characteristics that are common, making them easy to spot. A few:

They have spent a number of years vacationing in the area, usually during the summer. They've never spent all seven seasons here, never had to deal with snow, ice, mud, black flies, bikers, and leaf peepers.

During their summers in the area they've gotten involved with few, if any of the town activities. Fourth of July was probably the only one. Maybe. And perhaps one of the local craft fairs.

Should they visit during the off-season they're amazed at how quiet it is in town, commenting on the closed seasonal shops or restaurants.

They wonder why the supermarkets are so far away (more than 20 minutes) and find it inconceivable the local grocery/general store doesn't stock their favorite gourmet foodstuff.

But what really makes these folks so unwelcome in their new towns is their actions once they settle in. It seems the instant they're moved in they make it their mission to change the town where they now reside. Whether they realize it or not, they end up trying to turn the town into a clone of the place they left, not understanding that all their 'plans' cost money the townspeople will have to pay, money they may not necessarily have.

Think it can't happen? Think again.

Town Meeting and elections have been held here in NH over the last couple of weeks (with more voting in some towns still to come). I've been helping one group of people, the Moultonborough Citizens Alliance, with their site as they advocate for implementing SB2 style of voting and for keeping taxes lower.

Well, while they did not achieve their goal of getting SB2 implemented, they came REAL CLOSE! And they did defeat a contentious issue of a new edifice in town.

During that time, lots of Letters to the Editors were written, pro and con. The two that caught my eye seems to be all too typical lately - Wealthy couple moves into small hamlet, considers taxes dirt cheap, get buyer's remorse over the "smallness" of the town, and decide to ramp up town spending (and therefore taxes).

Because the mentality expressed by this couple (yup! a twofer!) of "we know better than you do even though we just moved in and have more money than you" irks me so much, being of sound mind and body, I just couldn't leave them alone.

I've seen that attitude from some new residents in more than one town. The names and locations may change, but the actions are the same. Sometimes they don't know when to leave well enough alone. Too often, they never learn.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Did The Gilford Board Of Selectmen Act Properly?

There's been quite a bit of back and forth about the firing of Gilford's Town Administrator Evans Juris by the Board of Selectmen. Some townspeople agree with the Board's action, others side with Evans Juris. The support for each party appears to be equal, with quite a few people I've talked with having no opinion because they don't understand exactly what's happened or why.

Was the Board of Selectmen's action legal? Absolutely. After all, the Town Administrator serves at the pleasure of the Selectmen. They can terminate the person holding that position for any reason, good or not.

Could this action have been handled better? Probably. But the fact of the matter is that it's done.

What are you thoughts on the matter? Do you agree with the Board? Do you agree with former Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Alie Boucher that it shouldn't have happened at all? Or do you think it's much ado about nothing? Go here and vote on the poll being sponsored by the folks at GilfordGrok. Let us know what you think.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

It's Not The Lack Of Taxes, But The Excess Of Spending

For the most part Town Meetings are finished for 2008. There are still a few that either haven't been held yet or haven't finished yet due to lengthy debates that will require reconvening at a later date.

It appears the taxpayers have sent a message to their towns, and by extension, to their legislators in Concord that we cannot afford to keep raising taxes at a rate above inflation. The 17.5% increase in the state budget may have looked great on paper, but the Democrats who pushed for that increase didn't seem to care that the taxpayers in New Hampshire didn't want to pay for it, seeing it as nothing more than a way to steal even more hard earned money from their wallets yet getting nothing in return.

Quite a few towns, including my home town, held the line on spending, keeping the size of their budgets stable, if not cutting them. The voters of one town, Allenstown, defeated every spending warrant article on the town warrant. Unlike the so-called Fair Tax Coalition, a group promoting some kind of alternative to property taxes, i.e. broadbased taxes, these folks understood the key to keeping taxes in check, and specifically property taxes, is to control the spending. No amount of 'alternative' taxes will fix the rising property taxes if spending isn't held in check.

Property taxes are among New Hampshire residents' most common complaints and who can blame them?

Stable property taxes are rare in New Hampshire. They have gone the way of similar levies in other states — in states where the people were sold and they bought into a false tale of how their lives would change if they added an income tax or a general sales tax — or eventually both — to the mix.

High property taxes are the result of too many local governments giving in to too many special interests who want their nests feathered by the taxpayers. Governments themselves — state and county, as well as local — are major contributors to the property tax crisis in New Hampshire.

It is fraud to contend the enactment of an income tax or a general sales tax would serve to relieve the burden of taxes in New Hampshire. The flow might be more difficult for the homeowner to ascertain, but it will still be there.

New Hampshire has to return to its roots. State, county and local governments have to step away from enacting budgets the people cannot afford to fund — budgets that represent 17 percent, 15 percent and even 4 percent increases.

Unfortunately not all the towns held the line on spending. Bogie reports voters in her home town of Deering spent money like drunken sailors. I guess they felt their property taxes weren't high enough or they figure the state will bail them out once an income or sales tax is imposed upon the unwilling populace.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Election Thoughts

First, unless you missed every possible article or local blog posts, it's no secret that I didn't win the election for Selectman. I didn't even finish second. Not that I expected to. But it was my first time running for an elective office, so it isn't as if I thought I'd win. I've got to start somewhere.

Second, I have to ask this: What the heck were the townspeople thinking when they approved Warrant Article 27 (Anti-Tax Pledge)?

This was a deceptive article, asking a question that leads to another question, and yet another that will take the populace down a road they really don't want to travel. What road is that, you may ask?

Broadbased taxes.

There are a number of problems such taxes bring to every state that's imposed them, the first being is control of all the money collected goes to the legislature, and once they get a taste of that kind of money, frugality goes out the window. So does local control of funds.

People, do not assume the state will let you or our town see a single penny of that money. And even if we do, it will come with so many conditions and strings that control of our town will devolve to the state government by default. Think it won't happen? There is plenty of history to prove otherwise and none to support the supposition that it won't. Just look to our neighbors here in the Northeast.

Every state that's imposed broadbased taxes to help alleviate property tax burdens have found property taxes may go down for the first year or two, but then resume their climb. The taxpayers are now paying even more taxes, their wallets are emptier, and still there's no 'relief'. The most recent examples of this are Connecticut and New Jersey, with New Jersey receiving the most dramatic lesson.

New Jersey had many of the same problems we've been seeing in New Hampshire in regards to municipal spending and property tax revenues. Like New Hampshire, New Jersey's cities and towns funded a lot of their schools through local property taxes. But the costs kept going up and so did their property taxes. Then, a rescue.

The state legislature imposes an income tax to help fund education. Property taxes drop slightly the first year, level out the second year, and then start going up again the third year. The town didn't cut their spending. The state provided some education funds, but they came with a lot of strings. The cities and towns lost control of their schools and the taxpayers got stuck with the property tax bill and a new income tax. The net effect was a loss of disposable income, loss of control over the local schools, loss of fiscal restraint by the towns and cities, and a lot of anger on the part of the taxpayers. The anger is understandable. After all, they were lied to.

Will we suffer the same fate here? We will if buy the line that any other form of taxation will somehow be fairer and less onerous.

Taxes are always unfair. Taxes are always onerous. It's best we never forget that. But to trade one form of tax that allows local control for another tax that forces us to surrender that local control would be a mistake from which New Hampshire will never recover and will likely have an adverse effect on our economy because it will destroy the so-called New Hampshire Advantage. We will indeed have become nothing but a clone of Massachusetts or Vermont or Connecticut. And if you wish to see how well all their taxes are working for them all one needs to do is look at our economy versus theirs. That alone should be enough.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Tuesday Is Election Day

Just a reminder to my fellow town residents that Tuesday is election day, meaning it's time to vote for candidates running for various town offices (including yours truly) and to vote on the warrant articles that will affect how much the town spends (and hence your taxes) or how you will run your business or where you'll live.

Polls open at 7AM at the Gilford Middle School gymnasium.

Vote early! Vote often!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

New Hampshire Is #1

There are many factors that make New Hampshire one of the best places in America to make a home. One factor is what is called the New Hampshire Advantage – low taxes. While that is important, there's one factor that beats it hands down.

Maple syrup.

Yankee Magazine selected five New Hampshire-made maple syrups as the best in New England.

Need I say more?

(H/T No Looking Backwards)