AllenN's blog

Optimist or Pessimist?

Optimist or Pessimist? (PART ONE)

There are different ways of looking at the world. As a fiscal conservative, some have called my outlook pessimistic. I guess that would make liberals optimists. I think those labels have a lot of merit.

At the annual Town Meeting, voters were presented with strong evidence that we have some structural fiscal problems. This includes unfunded liabilities (OPEB) and unsustainable budgets years into the future.

Parents: Show Your Support!

FROM YOUR LOCAL PTO.

Dear Parents,

We know your lives are busy with kids, but tonight's Town Meeting is important for you to attend. We need your support for the school budgets.

You've all heard that enrollment is down and teachers continue to receive 5-10% pay raises. But since we've been withholding all the spending we could have done over the past three years, now is the time to spend more. You may not know this, but the recession is over. So we are asking you to come out to support our "investment budgets" because now is the time to increase our services and add staff.

Just Vote NO!

Tonight, April 2, 2012, is the start of Annual Town Meeting. Our town boards are presenting budgets that one senior staff member has called "investment budgets." These budgets would add up to 15 new staff, start new projects, and commit us to millions of additional dollars in future spending.

Is it really time to expand services?

THIS TIME, A REAL PROBLEM LOOMS...

Another budget season, another Town Meeting starting this Monday night, April 2nd. And now we are going to see the annual request for more funds.

While we are still mired in a recession with plenty of conflicting data about the recovery, our local government is planning on doing what government does best, which is spend more money. This year, however, it is doing so with an utter disregard about the unfunded liabilities for its past promises. This is irresponsible.

In Fifteen Years

April 1, 2027

"Hi, My name is SR4356, may I help you?"

"Hi, SR, I'm interested in buying a house in Acton." I hand SR my ID card. He puts it into the slot next to his ear and scans it. I can see the familiar digital readout as it plays across his visor. SR almost looks thoughtful as he processes the data.

"Sure, I can help you with that, Mr. Smith. Would you like to look at Maynard or Littleton? There are some very fine houses for sale and I'd be happy to show them to you at your earliest convenience."

Why doesn't Acton want to save money for OPEB?

Acton has a huge unfunded liability for future healthcare costs for retirees. The Segal company calculated the "present value" of this liability at $100 million. It said that to fund this over 30 years, we would need to save $5.3 million per year, starting in 2010.

What goes up and never goes down?

If you answered your property tax bill, you'd be right!

Acton's property taxes have risen every year for 25 years and by most measures, we are among the municipalities with the highest property taxes in the Commonwealth.

In 1988, Acton's average single-family property tax bill, according to the Dept. of Revenue, was $2,683. Per-capita income in 1989 was $25,792.

In 2012, the Dept. of Revenue website shows Acton's average tax bill as $9,259. Our per-capita income in 2012 is estimated at $55,111. (See attachments for the DOR file summary, "Acton Average SF Tax Bill".)

Party On!

Acton's finances are back on track and things are looking up!

We read today in the Boston Globe that the state may lose 50,000 jobs when the “automatic” budget cutbacks on the federal level kick in. Various funding recipients go on to bemoan the loss of funding. "Sure," they seem to say, "we need to cut spending on the federal level, but it shouldn't affect Massachusetts!" (http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2012/02/28/state-could-lose-jobs-dec...)

FinCom Fails to Protect our Fiscal Future

The Acton Leadership Group (ALG) agreed at their February 16, 2012 meeting to plan to save $500,000 next year, $700,000 in FY14, and $900,000 in FY15 towards the town and school’s OPEB obligations. These are future costs of retiree healthcare that are calculated by the Segal report to grow at an alarming rate over the next 10-20 years.

Obama Ready to Control Tuition Increases!

President Obama has decided that public and private college tuition is going up too fast, and he'll try to use the power of the federal government to limit tuition increases. (http://articles.boston.com/2012-02-13/news/31056051_1_student-loan-debt-...)

In his state-of-the-union address, Obama singled out public colleges and universities, but he has broadened his purview to include private institutions as well when outlining his new budget plan.

Senior Center - More FAQs Please

The Senior Center Building Committee is having a public meeting tonight, February 13, 2012, at Town Hall at 7 pm. This is their second "community outreach" meeting in which they try to convince people that we need to proceed immediately on building a new Senior Center or Senior/Community Center.

At their last meeting, they handed out some Frequently Asked Questions (see attachments). But these questions were clearly inadequate because they didn't ask and answer many of the questions I had about this project.

So I've added a few for your reading pleasure:

Evidence Against New Senior Center Piles Up

The evidence against proceeding on a new Senior Center continues to pile up.

A recent survey of seniors by the COA received just 194 responses during the month of January 2012, or less than 5% of Acton's 3,900 senior population. (See attachment for Survey Results).

Of those who responded, about half use the Senior Center less than once per week and only 14 used it on a daily basis.

Eldridge, Atkins Wrong on Corporate Speech

According to Thursday's 1/26/12 Beacon, two of our local representatives are pushing for a new Constitutional amendment that would declare that corporations are not "people" and thus have no First Amendment rights. This is in response to a 2010 Supreme Court ruling called Citizens United versus FEC.

President Obama Misses the Point in State of the Union Address

President Obama once again gave an excellent speech at his annual State of the Union address. He is a gifted speaker and many of the things he said make sense. I think Obama presents the United States very well on the world stage.

Unfortunately, experience has taught some of us that politicians generally cannot be trusted. They tend to say things people want to hear, but the reality is often different.

A Good Project and a Bad Project

There are two major new projects being proposed at this April's Town Meeting. There is a Good Project and a Bad Project. Below is my summary for each.

PROJECT ONE: New Turf Fields
The Friends of the Lower Fields (formerly known as Friends of Leary Field) are proposing to create two all-weather turf fields just behind the TJ O'Grady Skateboard Park (which would also be updated as part of the project.)

How to Increase Police Staffing in this Bad Economy

I attended part of the Saturday budget session held jointly by the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee on Jan. 7, 2012. I went to listen to Acton's FinCom talk about our OPEB obligation, but also heard about the new Senior Center proposal and Police Chief Frank Widmayer talk about police staffing.

Widmayer said that since around 1990, he has voiced concerns about inadequate police staffing and asked for an increase in patrol officers, yet not much progress has been made.

Sen. Scott Brown Should Hold His Ground

The Boston Globe today (1/1/12) advised Senator Scott Brown to go back on his campaign pledge not to raise taxes. The Globe asserted that the new consensus by economists is that we will need a combination of revenues and spending cuts to balance the budget and bring our mountain of debt under control.

The Globe is absolutely correct in its proposition but not in its conclusion.

Budgets Living in Fantasy World

Town and school staff are now putting together the operating budgets for next year and presenting them to their respective boards. We've had a preview of both budgets and aren't happy with what we see.

These budgets seem to assume that our economy is experiencing a temporary setback and that things are going to be "back to normal" very soon. Business as usual, for the most part.

Cory Atkins - My Hero!

For those of us who think about politics about 10 hours a day, it is easy to divide the world into right and wrong. You develop a way of looking at things and then when new information comes in, you process it based on your belief system. You tend to discard things which don't fit in. It is a natural tendency which one must fight when one has strong beliefs.

Because every now and then, something comes along that bucks the trend and doesn't fit into the way most things seem to work.

I told you so

Frankly, I wish fiscal conservatives were wrong. History is surely going to prove us right, however.

Look at the facts: they are now all around us.

1. The federal government is awash in red ink ($2 Trillion), has a huge and growing mountain of debt ($15 Trillion), and has an even larger pile of future promises ($100 Trillion).

2. The state governments are the same, only with smaller numbers. But if you add up all the states' debts, the numbers are also staggering. For example, Massachusetts unfunded teacher retirement liability alone is $20 Billion.

Acton's Politics of Intimidation and Collusion

PART ONE: ACTON EMPLOYEES MAKE OUT LIKE BANDITS

This series will be looking at several related items that give rise to Acton's sky-high tax rates and the eventual request for an operating override. In this part, we examine the driving force behind Acton's high taxes: overly generous employee compensation.

Approaching $15 Trillion in Debt...

As our national debt approaches $15 Trillion, we may want to reflect on our ingrained culture of generosity and how our basic goodness is driving us into bankruptcy.

In the perfect world, there is no hardship we cannot make better, no disease we cannot cure, no suffering we cannot end, no out-of-work person we cannot employ, no uneducated person we cannot teach, no homeless person we cannot house...in short, no problem we cannot solve.

Collective financing (taxes) is an imperfect and inefficient solution. As taxes rise, several negative things happen:

Time to reduce employee health benefits

The Beacon (11/10/11) ran a front-page story on the new state law that allows a community to modify its health plans to its employees to save money without having to bargain the changes with the unions, if the town can show that a switch to the state's GIC plan would save at least 5% a year.

Acton would save over 8% a year if it switched to the GIC, so it is allowed to make changes. The Board of Selectmen (BOS) and School Committees (SC) and the town's Health Insurance Trust (H.I.T.) have held several meetings including some public meetings to discuss the options.

Ohio vote bodes ill for future generations

Ohio voters decided to back public union rights, wages, and benefits. This decision shows a weakness to democracy, one which is bankrupting our cities, states, and federal government.

A different kind of national service

In the news recently, we've been hearing a lot about taxes, wealth, income redistribution, and deficits. We all know American society is one of "haves" and "have nots" and we all struggle with making our system as fair to all segments of society as possible.

Republicans are upset that half of the adult population pays no federal income tax. These citizens are not contributing to the costs that the federal government incurs for all the services it provides. Perhaps if everyone contributed something, we wouldn't have a federal deficit.