Sunday, March 28, 2010

A ridearound

Around Town with Dick Patten
I am back from a brief journey to Massachsuetts to visit with a friend who was attending a medical conference in Natick. He traveled from Lake Stevens, Wash., which is about an hour north of Seattle. Chuck Broadbent was a Mormon missionary in Concord in 1999 when we met and became friends ever since. He is raising his children to call me grandpops and he, himself calls me Pops. We usually meet once a year in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to watch the Wolverines play. We are playing to go this year on opening day when they play the University of Connecticut.

So back to news: Pineconia Grange # 322 will meet Monday, March 29 at 7 Havenwood Retirement Center, 33 Christian AVenue. This meeting was postponed from last Monday. The annual Community Awards Night will be held Monday, April 19 at 7 p.m. at Dame School. There will be many awards presented that evening. The public is welcome and see who will be honored that evening. There will be refreshments to enjoy throughout the evening.

The Kiwanis club will meet Monday, March 29 at 12 noon at the Red Blazer Restaurant, Manchester Street, Concord. Chris Pappas announced the annual Spring Fair and Carnival will be held Thursday, May 13 to Sunday, May 17 at the Everett Arena.

Speaking of the fair and Everett Arena, I went to the Home Show held inside the Arena today. It is too bad that these vendors wouldn't come back and make their inside fair a success. I can remember how the Kiwanis would have the inside of the Arena filled with booths representing local businesses such as Merrimack County Future Farmers, Concord Lumber, Fern Oil, Sprague Electric, Northeast Electronics, Grappone, and Tri State Rescue to name a few. I am told that due to the timing of this event, the vendors won't come back 4 weeks later. It is sad because the Kiwanis do so many good things for charity in the greater Concord area.

The Bektash Temple Shriners will be having their annual Spring Ceremonial in Concord on April 3rd. No parade this year which is sad but to the cost of having a parade, it was decided to forego this event.

I am hearing a lot of concerns about the increase in parking in downtown Concord. There will be a public hearing in May at city council chambers for the public to come out and voice their opinions. I still think it would be a good idea for valet service in the downtown area. Concord Hospital has one and it seems to be working.

I would like to thank Concord Police Officer Craig Levesque for the informative and interesting Ride-A-Long I did recently. Officer Levesque took me on a tour of his sector which is central Concord Heights. There are two other officers who cover the north and eastern sections of the Heights and East Concord, and a third patrol that covers the southern section of the Heights which covers Manchester Street. I rode for 4 hours and it was very interesting. It brought back many memories for me from my years working with Merrimack County Sheriff, Pittsfield and Bow Police. Although I was a dispatcher, It is still a very challenging position. You are the lifeline for the police officers. I urge more to take advantage of this. We have a very capable police force and very lucky to have such dedicated police officers.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Grange Annual Community Awards Night coming up

Around Town with Dick Patten
Pineconia Grange #322 will meet Monday, March 29 instead of March 22 at 7 p.m. at Havenwood Retirement Center in the auditorium.
The Grange is getting ready for their annual Community Awards Night on Monday, April 19 at 7 p.m. at Dame School. A variety of awards will be presented by Dick Patten. This is open to the public. Come see who the outstanding police officer, firefighter, citizen, teacher, and more individuals are as they are presented with their awards. A few of them will be submitted to the State Grange for consideration of a state award.
I am looking for comments as the Grange continues to move forward in the new century, is it time for Pinecomia Grange to change its name slightly. Would people recognize the Grange if it said (The Grange of Concord #1) or Concord Pineconia Grange #322) or something to that effect? I ask this because when I went to present dictionaries, the students didn't seem or the adults as well, grasp Pineconia Grange. If the Grange were introduced as the Kiwanis Club of Concord, or the Lions Club of Concord; or the Rotary Club of Concord, or The Concord Rotary Club ... Any change has to be sent to the state Grange and they will vote to decide whether we change or not. I am just thinking as the Grange needs members. We are like many organizations in Concord or in the State who need new members if we are to continue.

The Kiwanis Club of Concord will meet Monday, March 22 at noon at the Red Blazer Restaurant, Manchester Street. The annual Spring Fair and Carnival planning is underway. This year's event will be held in May. Please contact Chris Pappas at 224-2501 for information.

Not to much new on the city scene this week.
It was sad to read the obituary of Bob Baldi who passed away suddenly last Friday. Bob had worked for General Services for many years. I appreciated his help with the Christmas Scene at the State House Plaza. Several times over the years, we had to call him because the box was locked and no one had a key. I can remember a time when the bandwagon was locked, and again no key to unlock it. Deepest sympathies are extended to his family.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Stop the new library insanity ...

The Concord Monitor, not surprisingly, came out with another editorial in support of a new library. As a frequent user of the current library – and a user off and on for more than three decades – I continue to be amazed and dismayed by the new library discussion.

First, there is no need for a "modern, new library." That is a fallacy that continues to be foisted upon us by a handful of people in this community who are obsessed with “new and expensive,” along with the Concord Monitor editorial board. In fact, it was a previous editor who sat on the first library study committee board that released an extremely lavish report suggesting that our city build a library we will never be able to afford [Hint of the insanity? Paraphrasing, 'let's build a cafe inside the library ...' Oh yeah, great idea ... help continue to make life difficult for the five cafes downtown that pay property taxes and are barely hanging on …].

Second, not unlike our community’s elementary school consolidation plan studies that revealed there was nothing structurally wrong with the historic schools, the same goes here. There is absolutely nothing structurally wrong with the current library. It is a solid, sound building. What it really needs is a consultant to come in and redesign the layout of library services based on the needs of the 21st century. This consultant should also offer realistic and affordable potential renovation and expansion suggestions to make the best use of the current building.

Every time I go into that building, I'm amazed at the misused space. It's almost as if it is done on purpose, mentally forcing people to hope for a new library. The space problems could be remedied if someone just took a little time to think about it. Take the CD room, for example, which barely has any CDs in it and is not used to its full potential. Not only are the CDs not in proper racks, they are taking up all kinds of floor space. It's totally wasted.
How about the main entry way, which is cavernous … Why can’t the second floor be extended over the current first floor to allow for more space?
Not enough natural light? Why not scrap the spotty lawn and unkempt landscape areas around the front of the building and replace them with sunny reading rooms attached to the main building?
Why can’t the children’s room be moved downstairs where the CD room and offices are now located? It could have its own entrance near the small parking area in the back. A family was nice enough to donate that entrance and it is locked off to the public. This would also allow for different space uses upstairs.
I implore the city to scrap the new library plan and hire a layout and renovation consultant to look at this now instead of buying any land. I would also be happy to help out in this regard, free of charge.

Third, at a time when the budget has already cut library hours, and library hours will probably again be put on the chopping block this year, this is no time to be building a new library. That’s a fact. The deficit is even bigger than last year and, unfortunately, the city will probably not listen to any of our ideas on how to better use the funds or even consolidate depts. to save money. They’ll trot out all kinds of library cuts to freak people out again. And everyone, please, don’t fall for the talking point that a new library will be designed so that it can run longer and better with fewer workers. That never, NEVER happens. Let’s try and live a little bit longer with what we have.

Fourth, the city can't afford to take any more private tax revenue off line. Building a new library on Storrs Street will take $35K from the tax rolls. Have we not learned from the disastrous Capitol Commons garage fiasco? It will take millions to buy the parcels and that’s millions we don’t have.

Fifth, why do people continue to talk about parking problems when there are no parking problems? I never have a problem finding parking near the library when I need to go there and I go at all different times during the week. I go on weekday mornings, Saturday mornings, and Sunday afternoons. Sometimes, if there is an Audi event or when the Legislature is in session, I have to park on Centre Street or Spring Street and walk an extra block or two. Big deal. And yes, I do it when I have my two little ones with me. Again, big deal. That’s life. We cannot spend millions on a new library just because people are too lazy to walk a block or two from a parking space. Enough already.

Lastly, there has been some discussion about the “homeless problem at the library." Well, let’s be honest: There isn't a “homeless problem at the library” … there's a homeless problem in our community and we refuse to look at it in real terms (although there are a lot of private people trying to do something). In a nutshell, the problems have to do with addiction, high rents due to high property taxes and landowners squeezing as much of a living or mortgage payments from their rents as they can, and the lack of jobs in our city. The answers to the problems are huge and a new library doesn’t solve any of them. In fact, a new library potentially makes the problems worse.

Question to everyone: When are we going to start thinking outside of the box and stop repeating the same mistakes of the past?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Does someone not like alternative ideas to raising taxes?

One has to wonder since my post on the Monitor editorial listing numerous things that could be looked at before raising taxes has mysteriously disappeared ...

This morning's must read ...

A column by Allan Herschlag in the Concord Monitor about the parking fee increase fiasco: ["Parking mistakes upon mistakes"].
Bravo, bravo, Allan! Encore, encore, encore!!
Around Town with Dick Patten
A reminder to members of the Catholic community, Deacon John at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church along with all the permanent deacons, are collecting cans of tuna fish and pasta items to benefit the N.H. Food Bank. I am sure that if you are not a member and would like to contribute, they would be happy to accept them.

The 19th annual Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce Business Showcase sponsored by Fairpoint Communications, Merrimack County Savings Bank, Unitil, Taylor Rental, and Courtyard by Marriott will be held on Tuesday, April 6 from 4:30-7:30 p.m. at the Grappone Conference Center, 70 Constitution Center, Concord. Chamber member businesses will be showcased. There will be door prizes, refreshments, with $7 admission. Kindly RSVP by April 2. The hospitality is being handled by Alan's of Boscawen, Bagel Works, The Barley House, Granite Restaurant & Bar, and Washington Street Cafe. Partners include Concord Monitor, N.H. Business Review, Nassau Broadcasting, and Wharf Industries Printing Inc./Wallace Press.

The Bektash Temple Drum and Bugle Corps are rehearsing on the first and fourth Mondays of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the Shrine Hall, Pembroke Road, Concord Heights. To date, the drum corps has accepted parades in Andover on July 4th, and in Gilford on August 28. The annual Bektash Temple Spring Ceremonial will be held April 3 at the Bektash Shrine Center. Dinner and entertainment featuring Aleppo Shrine Swing Band will be featured from 12 noon to 3 p.m. The tickets are $25 per person. Please call Ted & Barbara Dooley at 893-0674.
The 2nd annual Bektash Yard Sale will be held Saturday, May 22 from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The proceeds to benefit the Bektash General Fund. Please call Chairman Rick Perry at 434-9993 for information.
The HoBo dinner by the Bektash Shrine Clowns supper and entertainment will be held Saturday, May 1 with social hour from 5 to 6 p.m. Dinner will be served at 6 p.m. with $25.00 a couple of $15.00 for single. The proceeds to benefit the Shriner's Hospitals. Please RSVP by April 28 or call Bill McGowen at 603-942-5259 for information.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Monitor endorses 3 percent or higher tax increase ...

This morning, the Concord Monitor endorsed a 3 percent or higher tax increase for the city to balance its budget. The move is not surprising, considering that they are always advocating for new, higher taxes. But, it got me thinking. Can new savings be found inside the city budget, even though there is a deficit. Yes, indeed ...

First, as I wrote earlier when the new finance director was hired at top dollar, the city needs to readjust salary scales for vacant positions to bring them in line with what the salaries are for Concord residents or what they can get in a market that is full of unemployed people. In other words, there is a good opportunity for savings in the labor market. The city should be taking advantage of that. Savings: Unknown amount.

It truly is time to look at whether or not every single supervisor is needed in every department and try to find some savings in overlap. It amazes me that when looking at the police budget last year that there was a supervisor for the records dept. and a supervisor for the parking dept. Surely the departments could be combined and have one supervisor. Savings: $60,000, possibly more.

In looking at the registration, clerk, and assessing depts., there seems to be some overlap there. In addition, why can't there be job sharing so when there is a huge line in registration, employees who aren't doing anything in assessing or the clerk's office could be moved over to help residents get through that line more quickly? A new floor design for the three departments would be needed which would cost money. But it would be a productive change. Savings: Unknown, but if you had to spare one vacancy, about $40,000, possibly more.

Concord TV is over-staffed and has been for years. How many employees are there now, five? Six? There used to be three and before that there was one. It is time to slay this sacred cow already. Savings: $60,000 to $100,000.

Buying unneeded items in the middle of a near Depression, like all the new SUVs purchased for the police last year. How many other things are in the capital budget that could wait another year or two? Savings: at least $100,000, possibly more.

Just a few ideas to take seriously BEFORE raising taxes. And, what I see is more than a quarter of a million dollars in potential savings and the budget book isn't even out yet. That's 1 percent of the Monitor's proposed 3 percent tax increase! We're 33 percent there!! How much more can be found? Join in everyone!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Should the parking fees be raised?

Around Town with Dick Patten
Don't forget to turn your clocks ahead one hour this coming Saturday night or at 2 a.m. Sunday morning. Daylight Savings Time returns until November.

Don't forget to come to a public hearing in May regarding the possibility of raising the parking in downtown Concord from 50 cents to $1 along with several other recommendations. Many comments were raised during the city council meeting. This could be a great opportunity for someone to begin a valet service in downtown Concord especially during prime shopping times. The valet service could be located somewhere on North Main Street or South Main Street and allow the shopper(s) to leave their car so they could go shopping and not worry about putting money in the parking meters. There are details to be ironed out, but I think a valet service could work. I know the one at Concord Hospital has worked well for those who couldn't find a place to park.

Pineconia Grange # 322 will be meeting Monday, March 22 at 7 p.m. at Havenwood, 33 Christian Ave. in the retirement center auditorium. A St. Patrick's Day Program will be presented. Plans are underway for the annual Grange and Community Awards Night to be held April 19, at Dame School in the auditorium.

Don't forget to get your plastic flowers off the graves in the city cemeteries by April 1st. They will be thrown away by staff workers as the cemetery staff begins the spring clean-up. If by chance you didn't get an opportunity to remove them, they might still have them at the garage. Please call General Services at 228-2737 for info.

David Gill reports the Fourth of July celebration is still in jeopardy. Although there are discussions with a local radio station to help fund the display, $8,000 dollars is still needed to pay for expenses. We have one month in which donations have to be received or pledges made. I know money is tight, but I can't believe in the capital city of New Hampshire we may have to cancel our celebration. Please contact David at 225-8690 to make a pledge or donation. We need everyone's help to reach this goal.

Happy birthday to my dad, Clinton Patten as he celebrates his 79th!

I am not sure I have already thanked Walgreen's Pharmacy and Makris Lobster and Steak House for their donations to help purchase more summer banners for Loudon Road on the Heights. Atty. Chuck Douglas also is to be thanked for a donation to purchase three Merry Christmas banners for downtown Concord. Immaculate Heart of Mary Church also made a donation to purchase a Merry Christmas banner for the pole in front of their church.

I need assistance in helping to do spring cleanup at several areas on the Heights. Please call me at 496-2917 for information.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Five alternative reasons why people don't attend school board budget hearings

The Concord Monitor's Karen Langley has a story about the fact that no resident of the Concord community bothered to attend the school board's budget hearings. Some of the quotes in the article are pretty hilarious, from Superintendent Dr. Chris Rath insinuating that people are happy to former school board member Betty Hoadley suggesting that most people don't have the "time or expertise" to follow the process. Wow. Heaven forbid you actually help people become aware, right?
I posted a long comment for which I will probably be attacked online. Whatever. Here now, however, are five alternative reasons for why people probably didn't attend the school board's budget hearings:

1. Most people know that the school board isn't going to listen to them anyway on anything, so why bother? It is apathy, Dr. Rath. I have spoken to a lot of folks who feel this way. That has become perfectly clear to anyone with a free-thinking brain. Most of the members of the school board will nod politely but will not actually listen to what parents want.

2. Turnout was probably low since one of the hearings was held on a Thursday at 5:30 p.m. when most parents are either still working, still commuting, or sitting down for dinner with their families. While there was another hearing on Wednesday at 7 p.m., why would anyone attend when they would miss "American Idol"? (That was sarcasm, BTW).
I was at least one person who requested during the elementary school process that meetings be scheduled at various times so that those people with complicated schedules could attend hearings and find out what was going on. That seemed logical but it fell on deaf ears.
There's absolutely no reason why a budget meeting can't be scheduled at 8 a.m. on a Friday or noon on a Saturday so that people could make time within their very busy schedules to get there. In many other towns throughout the country, long budget hearings are held on Saturdays so that people can attend. There was just a four hour one in Belmont, Mass., this week, where the entire School Committee and leadership team went through most of the budget in a public hearing. There were no public comments but residents at least know a lot about the budget.

3. In keeping with the schedule point, what kind of outreach was done? It's interesting that there was little to no notice about the public hearings. I saw a notice in the Monitor but thousands of people in Concord don't buy the Monitor. How are you supposed to find out about the hearings? That's right, you didn't. And, it's impossible to babysit the school's Web site for important hearings. Come on. Compare this lack of outreach to the fact that activists in the PTO used email lists to advocate for a political position which went against the interest of parents during the Legislative Charter Commission process ...

4. Why should anyone take any budget process seriously when you can't really get at the details? A few people are still trying to find out via Right-to-Know how much Attn. Teague was paid to advocate for the school system in Legislative hearings while not wearing the required lobbyist notification or even being registered as a lobbyist, which was against the law at the time. Apparently, the administration won't release the information. Why? Why can't parents and taxpayers find out how much the school's attorney was paid to advocate against their interests, while not following the law? Question for the Concord Monitor: How come you're not going after that Right-to-Know inquiry like you did with Duprey? Surely the school's attorney allegedly breaking the law would be a big story, right?

5. Most people do understand budgeting and do want to keep up with things, unlike what Hoadley said. You don't have to be a journalist to understand or have a desire to understand budgeting. Most of us do budgets for our homes all the time. However, many folks are just too busy trying to put food on the table and make ends meet. We're also spending a lot of time making sure that our kids are being properly raised, whether in school or out. We don't have time to worry about everything that is going on (although we should make time).
For these reasons, the school board and administrators should be congratulated for keeping the tax rate as low as possible. Thank you. But, let's be honest, we all know the bills that are coming for the consolidation project ...

Just 4.5 FTEs?

According to Karen Langley's article in this morning's Concord Monitor, the consolidation of Kimball and Walker schools will yield 4.5 FTEs in savings:
"And the consolidation process will allow the district to save money when Kimball School closes next year, since the jobs of one secretary, 2½ custodians and a library assistant are cut."
Yup, that's right. So much for all that supposed savings when consolidating Kimball and Walker schools, huh? Just 4.5 FTEs? That's all? You must be joking. How much money is that? Spend tens of millions warehousing our children into a massive school that is inappropriately sized on a footprint that is too small to save money from 4.5 FTEs? From the sound of board members and administrators during the discussions about consolidation, you would think it would be a lot more. Wow, I can't believe it.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Condolences to the Greer, Mitchell families

Around Town with Dick Patten
Deepest condolences are extended to the family of the late former city councilor George Geers who passed away recently. I would also like to extend deepest sympathies to the family of the late Vern Mitchell who passed away. Vern represented Ward 8 in the State Legislature several years ago.

Although it may be late to some, I have submitted a resolution to the City Council to be referred to Facilities Naming Committee to have a portion of Regional Drive named in memory of Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs who passed away. Michael's family including his widow and children are still residents of Ward 8 and the children still attend Concord schools. I felt that we should honor his memory with a memorial. The proposed sign would state The Michael Briggs Memorial Drive or Parkway (this to be determined by the committee).

How do you feel about the increased parking fees in downtown Concord possibly going to $1? You should come to city council and voice your thoughts or contact your city councilor.

Sunshine wishes to Laura Harwood who was involved in a serious automobile accident in Northwood recently. She was taken to Concord Hospital but was not seriously injured. Laura's son, Joshua, is my best friend and co-director for the television shows Around Town and Around Town-the Capitol Beat. He will be coming on Around Town soon to speak about Passover.

Congratulations to Rebecca Noe for being awarded the 2009 Spirit of Scouting Award by District Commissioner Scott Langille. Rebecca is representing Troop 90 from the Concord Heights and East Concord.

The annual Pinewood Derby is being held Saturday, March 27 from 8:30 a.m. to 12 noon. at the East Concord Community Center. Cub Scout Pack 90 will have members participating in this event.

Happy Birthday greetings are extended to Clinton Patten, who is celebrating his 79th birthday next Tuesday. Clinton known to his friends as "Pat" is a school bus monitor for the Concord School District.

Do you know of someone living in a retirement facility or nursing home?
Recently I spoke with Thomas Molway,Resident Council President for the residents at Harris Hill Nursing Home, at 2 Maitland St. He and his wife (she passed away recently) moved to Harris Hill several years ago and loves his home tremendously. They had resided in three others and were unhappy because when they moved in they were moved to separate rooms at the facility and not near each other. How sad! Tom asked to come on the show because Harris Hill was recognized nationally for being one of several best nursing homes in the country. Tom was a delightful guest. he stated that if you know of someone residing in a nursing home, please take a few minutes to go and visit a friend, neighbor, or relative. He said, "At Christmas, there was a female patient who sat on the porch all day waiting for someone to come and visit her. They never came."
Holidays are the worst time when no one seems to come and visit people.

Pineconia Grange # 322 hosted Merrimack County Pomona Grange for their quarterly meeting. State Deputy Arthur Merrill made his Spring Instruction visit. He spoke of several Grange events coming up as well Degree Days in which candidates are needed.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A missed opportunity?

The Concord Monitor is reporting this morning that a new finance director has been hired to replace Jim Howard.
Rochester's Deputy City Manager Brian LeBrun will be taking the job. There were 60 applicants, the story stated. As well, LeBrun will be making about $102,000.
Back in September, I broke the story that Howard would be leaving. At the time, I wrote:
"It also comes at a time when tens of thousands of finance people are out of work across the country. So a high quality replacement, at a below market salary rate, should not be hard to find."
Well, it looks like that opportunity was blown. Despite multi-million dollar deficits, city government is just chugging along like usual. It is shocking that in a time of economic crisis the city did not try to find an excellent candidate - or even an acceptable candidate - who might be at a below market rate. The pay scale for this position is nearly three times the median income for the region.
There is absolutely no reason why the pay grade for this position could not have been cut to $60K and $70K. I'm sure there would have been many potential employees willing to take the job at that price. And the $30K to $40K in savings could have been used in another line item.
We are in the middle of a Depression here. The city has another multi-million deficit coming. All kinds of things are going to get cut because few if any Concord taxpayers can afford at 6 percent tax increase. It really is time for the city to bring municipal salaries and benefits in line with the median income of the region and what private sector employees make and get.
I'm not suggesting that the finance director be hired at $8 an hour, the rate of just about the only jobs available in Concord right now. But I am suggesting that the city get serious about becoming equitable between what the taxpayers make and municipal employees make. The city can start by reevaluating the pay grade for every vacancy that is a "must replace" position, like this one, and then lowering the salary to save money and reduce costs. It will be hard to do, but it is time.