Friday, February 27, 2009

Wanna hear some tunes?

Check out George Belli & The Retroactivists ... live electric at The Green Martini on Pleasant Street Ext. tonight from 8 to 11 p.m. They'll be doing some pretty cool covers and maybe even an original or two. If you're lucky, they'll do their version of "A Day in the Life" ...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Weekend sale at Gibson's

This Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, it's the annual February 25 percent off everything sale at Gibson's Bookstore downtown. This is a good opportunity to stock up on any of those books you've been wanting to buy [does anyone have time for books anymore?] and also support a local business.
Hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Happy shopping!

Monday, February 23, 2009

A better housing stimulus proposal

Guest Perspective/Paul Halvorsen
This week we should hear about the rules and parameters of the housing bailout. I, for one, don’t hold out much hope that the two parties responsible for this mortgage mess – borrowers who over-extended themselves and lenders who made risky loans – will be held accountable.
It used to be that to get a mortgage two initial hurdles needed to be overcome. First, a borrower needed money for a down payment. Second, the lender verified the ability of the borrower to meet the financial obligations imposed by the mortgage. Over the last decade or so it seems that the regulators and, indeed, Congress (through lack of oversight), reduced, and in some cases eliminated, the need for both the down payment and a stable job. That brings us to where we are today – a concurrent housing downturn (where prices have corrected downward) and a mortgage crisis (where defaults are increasing).
Now, Congress and the President act. After two “stimulus” bills here comes mortgage assistance. I’ll bet a week’s pay that the taxpayers (that’s you and me) will be picking up the tab for poor decision making of borrowers and lenders with little or no protection afforded us. To avoid this great giveaway I suggest that there be in place a taxpayer protection clause. It’s a simple solution that puts the responsibility where it needs to be – on the backs and in the pockets of the irresponsible borrowers and lenders. Let’s look at the two step approach and the impact on taxpayers, borrowers and lenders.
The first step would allow individuals who are underwater on their mortgages, that is, owing more on principal than their house is currently worth, to do a one-time renegotiation of their loan with the current note holder to pay principal and interest on the newer lower amount. This would require the borrower to repay two mortgages. There would be a first mortgage on which principal and interest payments would be made and a second mortgage that would be in limbo until the house is refinanced, the first mortgage is paid in full or the property is sold (whichever occurs first). Under this step the taxpayer would contribute nothing to the transaction. The borrower would, however, get some relief while still being held to account for the purchase. More important to the taxpayer is the fact that we don’t subsidize a windfall profit for the borrower. How, you say? If a buyer receives taxpayer money to avoid foreclosure and is then able to remain in the home for a period of time and the home values climb to a point above the original purchase price you and I just added to his profit on a future sale.
Let me give an example: A few months ago Bob bought a house for $100,000 that’s now worth $50,000. Bob owes $75,000. Taxpayers subsidize the refinance to $50,000 for 15-years without taxpayer protection. Bob stays in the house for 15 more years and finishes paying his mortgage – all while the house value climbs to $125,000. Bob sells just as he finishes paying his mortgage and pockets the entire $125,000. Now let’s look at the numbers with some taxpayer protection in place.
A few months ago Bob bought a house for $100,000 that’s now worth $50,000. Bob owes $75,000. With taxpayer protection in place Bob executes a 15-year refinance with the lender. Bob now has two mortgages: a primary mortgage for $50,000 on which Bob pays principal and interest and a second mortgage that will be a principal repayment at one of the trigger-points I outlined earlier. Again, Bob stays in the house for 15 more years and finishes paying his primary mortgage. The value of his house climbs to $125,000. Bob sells (just as he’s starting to repay the principal only mortgage). However, rather than Bob pocketing $125,000 as he did with the subsidized mortgage he keeps “only” $100,000…the other $25,000 goes toward paying off the second (principal only) mortgage. Bob gets no $25,000 taxpayer funded windfall.
The second prong would allow the current mortgage holder, upon refinancing to a lesser principal amount, to hold both the primary principal and interest mortgage and the second principal only mortgage, ultimately collecting on the second principal only mortgage only when the refinanced principal and interest mortgage is paid in full, the amounts are fully refinanced or if the home is sold. Again, taxpayers would contribute nothing to the transaction. Indeed, the lender has an incentive to do this type of transaction to avoid foreclosure and the associated losses. This also will encourage lenders to self-regulate in the future – the loss of interest revenue on lenders would, in the aggregate, be fairly high but less than the carrying costs of keeping hundreds of foreclosed homes on their books and under their care.
This approach doesn't cost the taxpayers any money, helps lower the payments for homeowners while keeping them responsible for their investment decisions, gets the lender the initial principal and some interest (thereby keeping banks somewhat responsible for their poor lending practices) and ultimately keeps the taxpayer from subsidizing a windfall profit if a home is sold years down the road after the inevitable housing market recovery.
If taxpayer protection like this is not part of any mortgage bailout we really need to rethink who is leading our country. We, as taxpayers, can’t afford to keep paying higher and higher taxes to bailout those in the country that do not take personal responsibility for their contracts and business dealings and then line up for the government handout. We cannot afford to go the way of other countries that have become so “progressive” that workers ultimately pay the vast majority of their earnings in taxes.
Paul Halvorsen is Assistant City Prosecutor and a former city councilor. He lives in Concord.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

CTA meeting tomorrow ...

If anyone is interested in Sunday's afternoon Concord Taxpayers Assoc. meeting, please email me for details:

Why is the city toying with a 0 percent tax increase?

Earlier this week, I responded to a post with a pretty long follow up wondering if the 0 percent tax rate is realistic or, frankly, a trick to scare everyone. In thinking about it for a bit, I decided it would make a good front page post.

First, no one, not even I, expects municipal, regional, state, or federal spending to not go up some amount each year. It would be nice if government didn't but it isn't realistic. Everything goes up. The key is whether or not it goes up 3 percent, 6 percent, or 17 percent.

Obviously, in an economic collapse, keeping as close to 0 percent is best. So many people in the private sector are getting hammered and having to live with less. If those of us in the private sector have to live with these conditions, so should the public sector.

I personally support government entities living within what the tax cap is proposing- whatever the CPI is for the previous year. This year, that would be 4.1 percent. In future years, it could be less or more. Granted, when it appears on the ballot in November, the tax cap will only cover the city of Concord side of the budget. But after it is approved, we’ll work on the others, in order to make Concord affordable again [or keep Concord affordable, if you will].

My fear, however, when city officials float 17 percent deficits and then state that they will propose a 0 percent budget, is that it will freak so many people out that they will be clamoring for more taxes to preserve services.

It's called "The old Kevin White trick" - release shocking and dire details about the budget proposing a godawful increase in an effort to get the rabble to accept a lower amount - which is the amount you really wanted them to accept in the first place.

As the fable goes, the Mayah of Boston in the 1970s proposed a 24 percent tax increase. Everyone freaked out about it for weeks and weeks. People were furious and it was the talk of the town. Then, after a bit of time, the Mayah held a news conference to calm everyone down, letting them know that taxes were only going up 12 percent. The public, breathing a sigh of relief, never realized until much later that the Mayah only wanted 12 percent in the first place. Those tricks led the state of Massachusetts to propose a statewide initiative known as Proposition 2 1/2, which essentially limits the levy and increase to 2.5 percent, plus new growth. Voters can also vote to increase taxes and pay for building bonds via initiative petition. I won't get into the specifics since it is a tad complicated. But it is not unlike the tax cap in place in some communities here in New Hampshire.

If our city officials are planning on doing this - floating a 0 percent budget instead of a realistic budget increase [like the tax cap proposal] - it is just flat out wrong. To trick the public only to end up taxing them 6, 7, or 8 percent more, and then saying "The public has spoken because we scared the sh*t out of them ..." is repulsively manipulative. This emotional response doesn't get to the heart of the matter: What is reasonable, affordable, and just, in the middle of a near depression. It also doesn’t address the issue of what the city should be doing and what it shouldn’t be doing. I truly hope that our city officials don't have this in the back of their heads but I won’t be surprised if this is the plan behind proposing a 0 percent budget.

In closing, I’ll say this: The key to government budgeting is to start from $0 each and every year and build up to what is available. If government did this, it would find that 1) It doesn’t need to do all the things it does, and 2) It would find more funds to do other things it should be doing or doing better.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Question ...

Why is the city of Concord buying two Chevy Tahoes SUVs and a new police cruiser during a near-economic depression?: ["RFP proposals"].
So, $86,000, for new cars for the police department ... at a time when the city is considering laying off cops [or keeping positions vacant].
Granted, this is capital budget item. Most of the time, these things are separate from operating. And, the life of a police cruiser is amortized over a number of years. As well, as we all know, the cost of a government employee is more than just the salary - there are benefits, pension contribution, etc. But in dire times, the government should make due with what it has, not blow tens of thousands on new SUVs.
Or, think about this way: If you combine this money [$86K] with a nice, completely overdue cut in the cable media access budget [say $120K, or even more ...] and then charged for leaf pickup [$200K or more] the city would have about half what the bag tax would bring in!
Clearly, it is time to set some priorities.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Interesting post, worthy of follow up ...

For those of you who don't know, the Concord Monitor has a comment feature on stories and letters so readers of the online version can make statements. You can do this anonymously or register your name.
This one comment popped out at me over the weekend [emphasis mine]:
I would also like to add from the City council Meeting held on 02/02/2009 comments added from Jan McClure. During the discussion period there was a talk about bi-weekly pick up or weekly pick up of recycling. Ms McClure states that she would like to consider staying with the bi-weekly pickup and the added revenue savings put back into the city general fund for funding other programs. The pay as you throw program was suppose to be applied toward the reduction of cost of waste disposal. Your council members are now considering funding other programs with the revenue before the program has started. We were told by the city that these revenues would go directly toward the waste issues in Concord, not to fund more broken programs. Clearly the city of Concord residents have been told false information. When it is election time remember the three candidates who were against the pay as you throw, Councilman Lemieux, Councilman Patton and Councilman Stetson and commend them with your votes.
If the City takes revenue from the pay as you throw program and adds this to fund other programs this program become a new Concord City tax. This tax is not tax deductible yearly like property taxes and is hidden revenue for our city. I am outraged with our City that they would consider funding other programs with this hidden tax.
If this is legit, and I have no reason to believe it isn't, many of us have been snookered into thinking that PAYT was about expanded recycling. We didn't mishear - the bag tax is supposed to fund the increase in the incinerator trash fee AND expansion of recycling to weekly pickup. Clearly, some of these councilors cannot be trusted on any level to do the right thing and stand by what they say.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Page to Stage presents Rebecca Rule debuting her new work, 'Crosscut'

New Hampshire author Rebecca Rule will show the flip side of her recordings of Yankee life when the renowned “Moose of Humor” introduces her newest work, “Crosscut”, at Concord City Auditorium’s Page to Stage series on Sunday, March 1, from 3 to 5 pm.. The event is free and open to all.
A crosscut is a large saw with teeth that cut right across standing lumber. Rebecca recorded the lives of Berlin, New Hampshire lumbermen and their families, the logging and the mills, in stories which cut right across the whole North Country. First she wove the material into a four-character play which was presented by Theatre North in Berlin. An audience member commented that “there were the people from away who understood the story, and there were the local folks who felt it in their hearts, some moved to tears. It’s a wonderful piece of theatre.”
Rebecca has now adapted that play, working with director Don Tirabassi, into a one-person dramatic telling of the stories of the Berlin millworkers. On March 1, she will introduce “Crosscut” in a staged reading incorporating pictures of the folks she interviewed and historic photographs from the Beyond Brown Paper project at Plymouth State University.
“Crosscut” is the sixth and final event in this season’s Page to Stage series, which has been co-hosted by The Friends of The Concord City Auditorium and the Community Players of Concord, NH, and supported by the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust.
For further information on this or future Page to Stage programs, please contact The Friends of the Audi at 225-2164 or email

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Nice article ...

There was a nice article in the Concord Monitor about the new tax org. Chuck Douglas, I and others have formed: ["Nonpartisan taxpayers group forms"].
There are some not-so-nice comments but hey, that comes with the territory. The group's Web site is here: ["Concord Taxpapers Assoc."].

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Inside the House: Finding online information

Rep. Rick Watrous

How does a citizen find out what is going on in the NH House of Representatives? It is all a few clicks away at
State reps, lobbyists, and interested citizens use this site to keep track of all the public hearings, meetings, and the thousand or so bills that have been filed. At the top of the page, under the House of Representatives banner, you will see a number of subheadings that you can click on. N.H. General Court (the official name for the N.H. House and Senate) brings you to the home page for state government. Bill Status Search takes you to the Advanced Bill Status Search which enables you to find the status of a particular bill. Statutes brings you the state’s laws or RSAs—crucial reading for lawmakers and engaged citizens.
On the left you will see a number of links, including Calendars & Journals. This is a vital link to the official record for the House. Go there and you will find the weekly Calendars that keep us all informed about House sessions, committee meetings, and all the various bills. State reps receive a Calendar every week and avidly go through it to find out what is going on. Open the most recent Calendar to see upcoming events.
Find a Bill takes you to a variety of bill search engines. Tip: do not just put in the bill #, you need to put “hb” (for “house bill”) before the number. If you don’t know a bill’s #, go to Bill Text Searching and type in some key text, such as “right-to-know”, and you will see a listed of related bills.
Find a Legislator lets you determine who your representatives are, as well as providing their contact information and voting records.
House Committees provides a number of links to the twenty-plus committees that do the work on all the bills. You will discover who chairs the committee and the identities of all its members. Committees are labeled according to the matters they cover: Judiciary, Transportation, Finance, Education and so forth. There is also a handy monthly calendar at this site. Click on a date and you will see all the committee meetings scheduled for that day.
These are but a few of the features at this wWb site. There is a wealth of information to be had by the dedicated seeker of knowledge. It is there for the use of all.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Pay as you throw or 'the bag tax'

Editor's Note - This is a modified version of an earlier post. Chuck Douglas and I have a column in the Concord Monitor today about the proposed pay as you throw program. Here is the link: ["Pay-to-throw plan is bad for taxpayers"]. I want to thank the Monitor for publishing the column and making space for it in the Sunday edition.
Initially, I had mixed feelings about pay as you throw [or, "the bag tax," as I have termed it]. On the one hand, I believe that recycling is very important and more people should be encouraged to do it. I also understand the need for more revenue and cuts to balance the city's budget.
But when the proposal was first floated, there seemed to be an understanding that every household would get a bag a week exemption. Somewhere along the way, that changed.
In December, Councilor Keith Nyhan wrote an op-ed about the plan and future meetings - but did not mention the one bag exemption. I emailed him, my councilor Rob Werner, and Mayor Jim Bouley, with a simple question: Is the one bag exemption in there or not? Neither Nyhan nor Werner ever replied to the email: ["How long does it take for two city councilors and the mayor to answer a simple question about pay as you throw?"]; Bouley called and we later got together for lunch to talk about the proposal.
After spending a great deal of time discussing the plan, I wasn't completely sold. But I understood why the bag tax was being proposed. However, I stressed to the mayor that a bag tax or surcharge should also be levied on leaf pickup. I told him I would be more apt to support pay as you throw if this was implemented too. Compared to trash pickup, picking up the leaves is an extravagance. Why should the necessity be taxed but the extravagance shouldn't? The mayor couldn't make any commitments to that, which is understandable.
As time went by, I had hoped to write a more thorough report about pay as you throw but didn't get around to it.
On Jan. 24, an email was sent out stating that there would be a hearing on Feb. 9 about eliminating the leaf pick up program. I thought for sure that this meant that they were going to have a surcharge for pickup, not an elimination of the plan. The proposal was actually to have people bag up their leaves in the fall like they are required to do in the spring.
During this time period, I was approached by former U.S. Rep. and Judge Chuck Douglas about the state of Concord affairs and the need for a taxpayers association. We talked on the phone and met for breakfast and I agreed to work on this effort with him. The group is non-partisan and open to anyone with concerns about Concord, its tax base, budgets, and school system. We are not going to address or talk about federal issues, social issues, or anything else controversial that doesn't have to do with Concord.
On Feb. 2, the trash committee decided to keep leaf pickup and keep it free, but would still be moving forward with a plan for the bag tax. That hearing is Monday.
This decision, of course, was ass-backwards but I wasn't too surprised. A few people complained about it and the council chose to do the opposite of what was in the best interests of the entire city. Why does it always seem to happen this way?
Anyhow, it has become clear that an organization like Concord Taxpayers Assoc. is badly needed. So, we're here. In the coming weeks, you'll learn more about the organization. We hope that you will join us to bring fiscal responsibility to the city.
For now, check out the Concord Taxpayers Assoc. Web site here: