May 10, 2007

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Publisher's Note: Short-changing the future
By Jody Reese

Last week Manchester’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen passed a revised budget over the objections of Mayor Frank Guinta. The aldermen’s budget provided more money for several departments, but by using a one-time fund is likely to cost taxpayers a little less than last year.

Unfortunately, the extra spending didn’t go to make city government more productive. Just giving departments more money without first figuring out how it can best be invested in making a department run with fewer employees or offer more services with the same number of employees is just bad government. City government should not be a make-work program for relatives or friends of the aldermen. While it’s true that Guinta’s ideas were little more than good-sounding rhetoric, he at least has ideas. That much can’t be said for the aldermen. Manchester city government doesn’t need to run like a business, it just needs to run like a good government. With all the trash blowing around the streets, the unplowed snow in the winter, clearly Manchester city government isn’t well run.

More disturbing still is that this budget, like the many before it, fails to meet the city’s obligation for the next generation.

This is not a particularly unique problem. Cities and towns all across southern New Hampshire are shorting spending on infrastructure to give home-owners a break now or to spend more on benefits for residents now living. In this case it’s roads and sidewalks that are being horribly underfunded. According to the Manchester Daily Express, Manchester should be spending $20 million a year to upkeep its roads and sidewalks. Only $2 to $3 million is now being spent. Guinta has rightly proposed setting aside meals and rooms tax income from the state to bring that amount up to about $5 to $8 million a year. Of course that isn’t even enough.

By underfunding the cost of keeping up roads and sidewalks we are literally passing the buck on to our kids in the form of higher taxes in their lifetime. We’re sort of like parents who buy fancy cars instead of putting money away in a college savings account.

How will this money be paid back or money be raised to pay for repairing crumbling streets? Higher taxes and/or fewer services.

New Hampshire residents love to scream about the high property taxes we all pay, but the reality is that even at $4,000 to $6,000 a year in property taxes per home, we’re still not setting enough aside to keep up with the state of our decaying roads.

We need to elect town selectmen, councilmen, aldermen and mayors who understand these challenges and look for ways to prioritize services, make government more productive with less staffing cost and ask for responsible levels of funding. Then we just might be able to leave our kids a state that they’ll want to live in.