Publisher's Note: The numbers don't lie
By Jody Reese
The numbers don’t look good for Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta. He’s the first mayor in several who has presided over a decline in Manchester’s population while the state’s population grew.
Guinta beat incumbent Mayor Bob Baines a few years back by pounding a few key numbers: he said the number of crimes was up, taxes were up and school test scores were down. Few people turned out and Guinta won.
But since then, Manchester residents have been voting with their feet. And their feet say Manchester is not the place they want to live. Making matters worse is that the population of the state has grown during this period, making the decline of a few thousand that much more severe. The result is that more apartments are for rent and property values are in peril.
It’s a downward spiral. People leave, property values drop and taxes increase on existing property owners. One option is to cut services to keep taxes from rising, but if you live here and services have been cut — for example, if classroom sizes here are larger than in Nashua or Derry — won’t you move there? This kind of future drives down property values and rents and leads to higher taxes on those who remain. It’s a nasty cycle.
Like in any business, people want value for their money. Is $4,000 a year in taxes a lot to pay if you have two kids in good schools? Is $4,000 too much to pay if your streets aren’t safe, are filled with potholes, it takes days to plow your street and they just announced the local firehouse is being closed?
In the first instance, the $4,000 seems like a great deal. Let’s say your kids are in school for 180 days; that’s $22 a day to have your kids safe and taught important lessons — about the cost of taking the kids out for pizza. But in the second, the $4,000 seems like an awful deal. People leave a city like that.
But Manchester isn’t there yet — it’s not even close. Manchester is a great city full of people who pulled it out of its economic decline in the 1990s and made it a place people wanted to live in and do business in.
Leadership hasn’t come from the Mayor’s Office or the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to energize the community. For example, it’s likely taxes will rise this year and residents will get fewer services for more money.
Why? Because most city employees will get a 3-percent raise, according to their labor agreement. Since 90 percent of the city budget is people, it’ll cost almost 3 percent more to run the government and that doesn’t include increasing retirement and health care costs.
If these raises aren’t addressed, more employees will have to be laid off, removing some of our best employees and creating a shortage in some departments.
Will people continue to vote with their feet and leave? I hope not.
Will Manchester find new leadership that can both control spending and create enthusiasm for the city? I hope so.