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)

Last Minute Attack

I think we all understand that politics can be either an exciting or dirty business. Often it's both. But that doesn't excuse this kind of last minute ad hominum attack.

Methinks the timing stinks.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Points To Ponder - Where I Stand

I've been asked by a number of the local newspapers why I've decided to run for the open Selectmen's seat. I wish I could give some kind of profound political statement in the style of Winston Churchill or Ronald Reagan, but that's not me. I'm just a hardworking guy who happens to believe I can make a contribution to our home town and help it though the rest of this first decade of the 21st Century.

In the past the Board of Selectmen had the luxury of taking some time to make decisions affecting our town. That no longer holds true in some circumstances. There are times when decisions must be made in a relatively short time, even without every bit of data or facts at hand. Failure to act in a timely fashion can end up costing the taxpayers far more than if a decision can be made swiftly, whether for or against taking an action. That's something I've had to do in my profession over the years.

Our society is constantly becoming more technological and more dependent upon new technologies. Understanding them and their pluses and minuses is crucial. The Board of Selectmen needs one member with a technological and/or scientific background that can help the rest of the members understand how these technologies can affect Gilford. As an engineer, I believe I'm the one that can fill that need for Gilford.

In regards to technology, I am a firm believer that access to high-speed broadband Internet will be a deciding factor for businesses and potential homeowners when it comes to locating in a given town. While Gilford has access to what is presently considered high-speed broadband access, that will not be true in only a few years. I believe Gilford should investigate the means needed to ensure our town, and by extension, the rest of the Lakes Region will not become a broadband backwater. Through my job I have seen on more than one occasion how access to future-proof high-speed broadband has influenced businesses and residents to choose one town over another.

Probably one of the most difficult task for any member of the Board of Selectmen, town department heads, school board members, school administrators, and town residents is being able to discriminate between need-to-haves and nice-to-haves when it comes to spending the taxpayer's money. Also, being able to look ahead to determine whether an expenditure now can save taxpayer money in the future is a must. Performing cost/benefit analysis is something I do in my profession on an ongoing basis.

When it comes to our environment, I cherish it as much as the next person. In regards to the Liberty Hill Coal Tar site, I must say that on an emotional level I feel the decision by NHDES was the wrong one. Who in their right mind wants that toxic pit in their backyards? That being said, I have to look at it dispassionately as well, looking at the facts of the case. As I haven't been privy to the data used by NHDES to make their decision, I cannot say their decision was the wrong one...or the right one until I can go over the data and their decision-making process.

Those are the major points I wanted to present to you. I'm sure you may have question about other topics or points of interest you'd like me to discuss. Please feel free to e-mail me or to post a comment to this blog post.