To The Daily Sun,
Several weeks ago I met with Laconia City Manager,Scott Myers, for the first time, to discuss issues related to the current budget.
I have lived in Laconia since 1981, and have been a homeowner/taxpayer since 1986. I was concerned by what I saw as exponential growth of salaries, in particular. I asked the manager if there were actual ranges for specific positions and he assured me there were.
Between many working people having stagnant to flat wages for too many years, and the growth of subsidized housing locally, it certainly appears that working people and senior citizens on absolutely fixed incomes, are ever-increasingly being asked to support a budget which is ultimately unsustainable unless the tax cap is strictly adhered to.
There are, of course, many prosperous residents and retirees, but no one is speaking out asking to spend more for taxes, that I know of.
I had the 2016 Earnings Report in hand for our discussion — which itemized every Laconia employee's salary, including the School Department. This report is available for free at the City Clerk's office. If anyone wants to know where their tax dollars are going, salary-wise, read this document.
I asked the manager what he thought about the tax cap; he reminded me that Dover also had a tax cap. Mr. Myers was the well-respected mayor of Dover before coming to Laconia. There are a total of eight municipalities in New Hampshire which have tax caps. I am going to itemize each, with its population/2016 tax rate. Derry: 33,199/ $27.06; Manchester: 110,229/ $23.13; Dover: 30,880/ $26.29; Franklin: 8,450/ $25.23; Laconia: 16,227/ $22.20; Nashua: 87,970/ $25.07; Rochester: 30,038/ $28.28; Somersworth: 11,759/ $32.12 .
What family, or business can spend exponentially, year after year, regardless of their own incomes? These other com-
munities manage within their tax caps, Laconia can as well. It would be a dangerous precedent to over-ride it this year, for one specific union's demands, because what will happen in the future when that contract renews?
There was an article in The Daily Sun in December 2016 titled "Census Data Confirms Stalled Population Growth and Shrinking Workforce Here" Laconia has only 719 more people now than it did in 1960. I haven't researched what that year's city budget was, but it would be interesting to know!
On April 28 there was an excellent article in this newspaper, by Michael Kitch, on the history of Laconia's tax cap. It was most informative and factual, particularly the line 'If rising costs, especially health insurance and retirement contributions cannot be met within the limits of the (tax) cap, priorities must be reshuffled or expenses cut." However, his last line, a personal editorial comment, ruined the objectivity of the article: 'And continue wielding needle and thread to make the suit fit the school boy."
It makes no more sense to compare or contrast Laconia's teachers' salaries to other communities without realizing other factors. To compare communities with smaller populations, for instance Gilford, means they employ fewer teachers. Also, even allowing if Gilford's salaries are higher, it's current tax rate is $17.95, $4.25 less than Laconia's.
There's an article in US News and World Report (usnews.com) entitled Best High Schools in America. Of the 6041 public high schools, 20 were from New Hampshire. There was also a N.H. rankings of high schools with data which, in my opinion, should be used to supplement salary demands, to give more information than comparing salaries with dissimilar (sized, demographics, etc.) communities.The #1 N.H. school is Hollis-Brookline H.S., enrollment of 830, 63 f/t teachers, ratio of 13:1, and 96 percent graduation rate. LHS's enrollment is 626 students with 60 f/t teachers. Its economically disadvantaged percentage is 53 percent. The graduation rate is 76 percent. Dover H.S. has a 88 percent graduation rate, 30 percent disadvantaged, teacher ration 12:1.
Gilford H.S., with 532 students: 12:1 teacher ration, 19 percent economic disadvantaged, has 92 percent graduation rate. Interlakes, economically disadvantage of 32 percent, teacher ratio of 12:1, and a graduation rate of 85 percent. I recommend others read this article thoroughly, to see that there are successful (measurable) schools throughout N.H. with higher ratios of students//teachers and better graduation rates. How much more money will it take to improve what can be measured for a better educated student?
The folly of asking for higher salaries compared to communities with more or fewer residents/students, is false logic. It makes no more sense to build a budget compared to any other community that is dissimilar, without weighing all the data that is available for a successful outcome.
Finally, I shared with the city manager statistics from other communities relative to their elderly exemption rates. Unless our limits keep up with the cost of living, they will be meaningless. Should Laconia's assessment reductions be compared to Concord's (pop.42,620), or Manchester's (110,229), or New Hampton's,(2206)? Things have to be relative and realistic.
So while Laconia's population remains within 719 of what it's been for almost 60 years, it is an aging population as well. Budgets need to be constructed to fulfill all citizens' and businesses needs, not just one element of the community. There seems to be no amount of tax-payer dollars that can be quantified to improve school data — graduation rate, test scores, etc. Salaries are one aspect of meaningful employment. So is having really successful outcomes of improved graduation numbers, and well educated students who are prepared for college and employment.
The City Council needs to balance what's best for the entire city, and should not be bullied by the School Department, which has never been grateful for what it already has, and has proven many times over, that there are many excess positions which they've often laid off, over the years, and they've done just fine, afterwards. In my opinion, as a long time taxpayer, there's too much of a disconnect between Laconia's reality and the School Department's greed. The rest of the city has to live, too.