February 22, 2007

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Manchester Publisher's Note: Penny wise, pound foolish
By†Jody Reese

Last weekís Valentineís snowstorm closed schools, city offices, the courts and thousands of small and large businesses. But it didnít need to.

In Manchester the snow never topped eight inches and it came down at a steady pace. If city government wanted to keep the streets clear of snow they could have, but the policy is to hold back the plows until most of the snow has fallen.

Itís perhaps one of the more stupid policies in a city full of stupid policies (odd-even parking, anyone?). In most northern cities, governments make a real effort to make sure snow doesnít interrupt business. After all, closing thousands of businesses has a huge negative economic impact. Think of all the lost business, lost wages and extra costs to parents and schools for all the kids waylaid at home. The true cost of snow-covered roads may be in the million of dollars for Manchester.

This wait-until-the-snow-has-ruined-a-day-of-work policy reflects deeper themes in our city government and the Board of Mayor and Aldermen that oversees it.

It seems that they ask themselves how much can we save now regardless of how much money it costs us later or how much damage it does to business in this city. Businesses donít vote. Itís not exactly anti-business, itís just unconcerned with the health of business in the city. While our board and mayor always ask how much will this add to the tax rate, do they ask how will this help or hurt business? How can we make Manchester more business-friendly?

I was hoping Mayor Frank Guinta would change the debate to one that included city governmentís impact on business, but that hasnít happened. Instead, the mayor continues to get into political wrestling with the board over pennies on our tax rate.

Of course we want a board and mayor to spend our money wisely and to keep a lid on taxes and fees. That needs to be balanced with the needs of residents, city infrastructure and business.

However, the board and mayor arenít going to change until they think that voters care about making Manchester a better place to live and do business.

So whatís in it for voters?

A growing city with plenty of good jobs, clean parks and good schools is a great place to live. That translates not only into a better quality of life, but also into higher property values. Most folksí personal wealth is tied up in their homes and most renters who want to buy a home want the confidence that property they buy will increase in value over time. It doesnít matter how low your property taxes are if you canít sell your home. The days when people lived in the same home for 50 years have passed. Today, itís common for people to live in several homes over a lifetime. Climbing or stable property values are key. So while it might seem foolish now to make sure Manchester is business-friendly, it will sure pay off later.