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.