When the Selectmen met April 7th to establish their goals and objectives for this year, the takeaways that we got were as follows:
- we need more employees
- we need to pay our employees more money
- the trust funds should be stripped with the money removed going towards infrastructure
Demonstrating an unwillingness to listen and respond to the voters message with amended plans, the Selectmen’s comments primarily focused on the voters - who overwhelmingly turned down the Operating budget. The following Selectmen's comments were met with shared enthusiasm among themselves.
- need to do a better job selling it
- do better job on presentation
- need to educate the public
It was telling that most of the meeting was dedicated to Department Heads requests for additional resources, that there was no Public Comment period on the agenda and that there is nothing in the minutes related to understanding and managing the financial impact of these goals on tax increases. It is obvious that the Selectmen don’t get it. In response, Rational Taxpayers of Hampton has some suggestions that would provide some balance and better serve the interests of the community.
Roads and Sewers: Clearly, there is a need to repave and repair our roads and sewer system. A DPW commissioned Pavement Management Plan was completed in 2013 estimating the cost of addressing Hampton’s 75 miles of town maintained roads at $11 million over 15 years. However, extrapolating the $5.7 million initially proposed to fix 1.3 miles of Exeter Road and applying it to all 75 miles of roads in Hampton produces a theoretical total price tag of over $300 million. While $300 million no doubt overstates the total price tag, clearly, $11 million is grossly understated, essentially a meaningless number.
Prior to proposing the first multi-million dollar road repair project there needs to be a better financial understanding and articulation of the bigger picture, priorities need to be set and a plan developed for the constant funding of maintaining the roads and related infrastructure. While $100 million or more, even over 15 years, is probably beyond the reach of property taxpayers, perhaps putting more than $300K annually in the capital reserve funds is necessary. Taxpayers can’t afford a repeat of the 70% increase in property taxes that took place between 1997 and 2003.
Containing costs: There is little accountability and no incentive and for the Town Manager and Department Heads to implement programs to improve efficiency resulting in lower costs. We think there should be more emphasis on being efficient, controlling overtime, using part time employees and rewarding efficiency rather than just throwing more money at problems. One example of this thinking would be to explore increased resource sharing with Fire Departments in neighboring towns to reduce large equipment expenditures, centralize appropriate functions and lower costs. Other communities such as Portsmouth, Rye and Greenland have started this process and Hampton should avoid being behind the curve.
Reasonable wages : We support reasonable compensation packages for our employees, as evidenced by our support for all 12 union CBA warrant articles on the ballot between 2011 and 2014. However, wage increases such as the 9% level proposed for some non-union staff in the 2015 Operating Budget are not realistic. We should recognize that in this age, employees are sharing a greater amount of their medical and retirement costs and not just pass everything on to the taxpayers. Municipal government is a bit of an aberration in that employees play a significant role in electing the people that determine their compensation. Attempting to provide compensation packages that compete with municipalities such as Portsmouth, Manchester, Nashua and so on, with their Council form of government and only 9 to 16 people approving employee compensation, would be unwise.
We advocate the greater use of part time employees to address the spikes in the demand for our services to accommodate the tourists that visit our community. We don’t need to add permanent staff. Hampton’s year round population has not grown in 15 years, while the cost of town government has grown dramatically.
Finding new revenue sources: We support Senator Stiles efforts to change the distribution of the Rooms and Meals tax, as well as Senator Clark’s bill to enable a local rooms and meals tax. This can be accomplished by getting support from the Selectmen and our local legislators. Despite the probable objections of the hospitality industry, we don’t believe a 1% increase would hit a tipping point affecting the activity at the beach.
Services such as Fire Inspections, Building permits and sewer connection fees should be competitive with surrounding towns and at least break even in relation to the true cost. One example is that our building permit “base fees” were recently increased slightly, but the fee per thousand was left in place at $5, which is the lowest in the area. While developers wouldn’t like it, an increase to $7 per thousand would have a sizeable financial impact and still be competitive with surrounding towns, without affecting building activity.
We accept that not all of the ideas we propose will be supported, but there needs to be a more balance coming from the Board of Selectmen between service levels, employee costs and the impact on the taxpayer.