Wednesday, May 1, 2019
Rusty's conflict of interest unbridled
By Norm Silberdick @ 9:09 AM :: 668 Views :: 2 Comments :: Letters to the Editor

The recent public hearings and discussions about commercial trash and the elimination of condo trash and recycling collection produced some predictable, but still alarming responses. For years RTOH has been opposed to the discriminatory practice of providing (some but not all) commercial businesses with trash collection at taxpayer expense, while other commercial businesses pay for the same cost of doing business. There was a DPW report that some 650 businesses and rental properties were beneficiaries of this service courtesy of the taxpayers of Hampton. When the subject has come up for discussion in the past members of the business community, which is well organized, presents is arguments and has the support of the Chamber of Commerce.

There also remains a very friendly voice on the Board of Selectmen since Rusty Bridle is the Chamber of Commerce's Director of Membership Development, a position we assume includes a lucrative salary. The problem is that he did not recuse himself from the discussion and vote this past month and he made the motion that resulted in deferring any action on commercial trash collection to November 1st. If our supposition is correct that Selectman Bridle is a financially compensated employee of the Chamber of Commerce then it would be a blatant violation of the Town of Hampton Code of Ethics, Chapter 594-4, which addresses "Conflicts of Interest." If, in fact, Selectman Bridle does not receive any financial compensation from the Chamber he should clear the air and state that at the next Board of Selectmen’s meeting. Otherwise he should recuse himself from any future discussions involving the Chamber of Commerce, all issues impacting its members and the Seafood Festival. The Seafood Festival is sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce bringing in what we suspect is a high six figure amount directly to the Chamber, not including revenues to its members.

We hear the tired arguments from the business community about paying real estate taxes like everyone else, that there would be disruption to the beach if different vendors did the service and other arguments that reflect a sense of entitlement. In response to reducing its budget by $180K, the DPW recently sent letters to what we understand to be over 1,000 condo owners indicating that their trash collection service would be terminated. Many of these condo owners have had their trash picked up for as long as 20 years. So, what is happening? Businesses are receiving preferential treatment as a result of their influence over the Board of Selectmen and the taxpayers and condo owners are getting a bad deal, it is as simple as that. Businesses already received a big break as a result of the 2016 property tax assessment revaluation when the assessments on single-family homes were increased by an average of 22%, while commercial properties were increased by an average of only 9%. Despite our attempts to get an explanation we never got a rational response from the Assessor’s office.

As an aside, the Selectmen have shown no leadership in providing oversight over property tax assessments outsourcing the Assessing function to MRI a private contractor and removing themselves from the direct oversight of Assessing by turning it over to the Town Manager. MRI was also selected recently to complete a revaluation this year, creating a "fox watching the chicken coop" scenario. The rational for selecting MRI for the revaluation was that they had the lowest price, by $16,000. The entire decision-making process at the Selectmen’s meeting lasted only 90 seconds and there was no discussion related to quality or accuracy. The proposal from the company that was $16,000 higher committed to a full field review of all residential and commercial/industrial properties, there are about 9,000, while MRI’s proposal only included a field review of properties that have had building permit or have been sold recently.

At this point the selectmen need to step back and look at what other communities do to address trash and recycling and consider all of the alternatives. The objective should be to come up with a solution that is fair to all entities whether they’re condo residents, commercial entities, single- family homes or taxpayers in general.