To The Daily Sun,
In reading Mrs. Vaillancourt's letter (printed Thursday, March 24), I agree with some points and thought more clarification was necessary regarding the purpose of the Laconia tax cap and because of it, all that she wants will always be there.
Laconia is a city that is also the county seat. Therefore, we have financial obligations that are not imposed on the surrounding towns and villages. It was requested of the council to help with the "runaway" spending that would help carry the city into the future on solid ground. It was successfully argued that the purpose of the tax cap is to put the "brakes" on emotional spending requests and place more attention to care for the needs of our community services and then, and only then, apply to discretionary items.
Remember, all bonds were/are a borrowing avenue, and you have to pay bonds off without allowing other services to be shorted.
As for the arts threatened to be cut, when it comes to the School Board, which is an "autonomous" entity. They have their own needs and wants which are then submitted to the council for an up or down vote. My personal experience is that they selectively answer questions if they are asked any at all. However, most of the time the response is, "We'll get back to you on that," but never seem to do.
For example, while a councilor for Ward 1 and as a past educator in the Claremont school system (the poorest in the state) there was considerable scrutiny on a teacher needing/wanting a day off. Substitutes at the time were paid $25 per day. During my stay on the council, Laconia paid $60 per day. When I questioned the district on their budget line for substitutes totaling over (approx.) $585,000 divided by $60 it was jaw-dropping to see how many times the district would budget for teachers to be gone from their classroom. Illness ... well of course. Death in family ... absolutely. However, I was told not to question, just and up or down vote.
The next day I received a call from an educator who said, "You're right, stay with that charge. Have the district give you the absentee reports of each school; it's all documented. You'll find that the teachers are not there on Fridays and Mondays frequently. " When asked at the next budget hearing, "We'll get back to you on that." Hmm, they never did. Musta been a touchy subject.
So my question to Mrs. Vaillancourt is, "What's the substitute line reading currently?"
A couple of other interesting budgeting tactics is that they submit for the same amount for a teacher that has been there for 20 years (for example), however, she/he decides to retire/move (either prior knowledge or suddenly) and the replacement might be a first-year or more, but not 20 that is paid at a reduced rate. Which line is the excess noted?
Lastly, comes to Mrs. Vaillancourt's concern. They always head for the "arts will be withdrawn." That's extortion to the taxpayers. Music is so important; I wholeheartedly agree. I was privately classically trained starting at 12 years old and was playing with the senior high orchestra by 14. Music actually got me into college. That's why they pick the arts; they know it will rattle the masses. I support other cuts than the one that wouldn't allow a student to shine. The arts is a measurable individual accomplishment.
The tax cap prevents wasteful and excessive spending when there are so many questions without reasoning or answers. It focuses on needs, and then the wants. Taxpayers don't "bond" or print money for their needs, they earn every dollar.
My suggestion is that folks ask the hard questions above and find out how many substitutes are being utilized, how much is paid in annuities. Ask if taxpayers are still funding their union dues to the NEA ... etc. Finally, find out how much of the $1.6 million in known surplus from 2005 was spent the last 10 years. The financial officer at City Hall should have that figure. Pam Reynolds knew they had it, but sadly she's retired. (There's) no telling now.
Council won't get the answers. However, Mrs. Vaillancourt, you might. Oh, let's hope the arts aren't cut. The city invested in the Colonial Theater just for that purpose. Like they say in politics, follow the money. Yes, I would start there.