Right to Know NH Leaflet

By S.D. Plissken | July 13, 2020

I obtained at a recent gathering a leaflet from the Right to Know NH organization, which I reproduce below for the benefit of our readers.


Obverse side:

Right to Know NH

Right to Know NH is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving adherence to and strengthening the Right to Know Law (RSA 91-A).

What We Do

  • Assist citizens in exercising their right to obtain information from their government.
  • Provide resources on Right to Know with the goal of making government more open and accountable.
  • Help public officials on how they can provide their constituents with access to government meetings and records so they may be in compliance with both the letter and the spirit of the law.
  • Propose legislation to strengthen the Right to Know Law (RSA 91-A).
  • Advocate for or against proposed legislative changes by writing to legislators and testifying at legislative committee hearings.
  • Maintain an extensive website with up-to-date case law, how-to information, and Right-to-Know Law training links.
  • Educate citizens on their right to know their government.
  • Build cooperative associations with organizations which share an active and ongoing interest in government transparency.

Membership

Membership is free, knowledge is invaluable. We meet regularly in Concord and invite new members. For more details check our website. We also welcome organizations to ally with us so together we have a stronger voice promoting open government.

Contact Us

righttoknownh@gmail.com
righttoknownh.wordpress.com


Reverse side:

Part I, Article 8 of the New Hampshire Constitution

All power residing originally in, and being derived from, the people, all the magistrates and officers of government are their substitutes and agents, and at all times accountable to them. Government, therefore, should be open, accessible, accountable, and responsive. To that end, the public’s right of access to governmental proceedings and records shall not be unreasonably restricted.

RSA 91-A:1 Preamble

Openness in the conduct of public business is essential to a democratic society. The purpose of this chapter is to ensure both the greatest possible public access to the actions, discussions and records of all public bodies, and their accountability to the people.

www.gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/html/VI/91/91-A-mrg.htm


Accompanying business card:

Right to Know NH
promoting open government

www.righttoknownh.org
righttoknownh@gmail.com
#opengov

Public BOS Session Scheduled (July 13, 2020)

By Muriel Bristol | July 12, 2020

The Milton Board of Selectmen (BOS) have posted their agenda for a BOS meeting to be held Monday, July 13.

The BOS meeting is scheduled to begin with a quasi-Public session beginning at 6:00 PM.


Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted to the limited extent that an audience limited to nine persons – apart from the BOS itself – will be permitted to attend.

The quasi-Public portion of the agenda has New Business, Old Business, Other Business, and some housekeeping items.


Under New Business are scheduled two agenda items: 1) Swearing-In of Select-Board appointee – Claudine Burnham, and 2) Workshop to Discuss Budget Scheduling & Guidance Development for Departments.

Swearing-In of Select-Board appointee – Claudine Burnham. The two Selectmen remaining appointed Ms. Claudine Burnham at their last meeting to replace outgoing Chairwoman Erin Hutchings.

Workshop to Discuss Budget Scheduling & Guidance Development for Departments. Last year’s BOS “guidance” was both a surprise and a disappointment for taxpayers, who expressed their displeasure through voting instead a second default budget. Let us hope they need not do so a third time running.


The GOFERR reimbursement and “Other” appear at the bottom of the agenda, but would seem to be there in error, as merely continued from the prior agenda.


Mr. S.D. Plissken contributed to this article.


References:

Town of Milton. (2020, July 10). BOS Meeting Agenda, July 13, 2020. Retrieved from www.miltonnh-us.com/sites/g/files/vyhlif916/f/agendas/07-13-2020_workshopagenda.pdf

The Envelope, Please

By S.D. Plissken | July 9, 2020

Milton Board of Selectmen (BOS) chairwoman Erin Hutchings announced her resignation, effective July 7, during the Selectman Comments portion of the BOS meeting of Monday, June 15, 2020. She had sold her house and would be moving out of town.

On June 22, 2020, the Town posted a notice seeking applicants from which they might select a replacement.

At their quasi-Public meeting of July 6, 2020, the BOS opened a sealed envelope with the names and particulars of three applicants vying to be her replacement. They were Laurence D. “Larry” Brown, Claudine Burnham, and Humphrey S. Williams. (Mr. Brown and Mr. Williams were candidates for this office at the March election).

At their quasi-Public meeting of last night, Wednesday, July 8, 2020, the BOS went immediately into a 91-A:3 II (c) session.

(c) Matters which, if discussed in public, would likely affect adversely the reputation of any person, other than a member of the public body itself, unless such person requests an open meeting. This exemption shall extend to any application for assistance or tax abatement or waiver of a fee, fine, or other levy, if based on inability to pay or poverty of the applicant.

When they emerged from their secret session, they announced that they had selected Claudine Burnham to serve out the remainder of Erin Hutchings’ third year.

Ms. Burnham was for two years (2015-17) assistant recreation director for the Town of Milton, and has been for two years (2018-Present) a resident mentor at Shortridge Academy, on Governor’s Road in West Milton. Northeastern University conferred upon her in 1993 a B.S. degree, with a major in business administration.

References:

LinkedIn. (2020). Claudine Burnham. Retrieved from www.linkedin.com/in/claudine-burnham-61a55214a

Shortridge Academy. (2020). Claudine Burnham. Retrieved from www.shortridgeacademy.com/staff_member/claudine-burnham/

State of New Hampshire. (2016, June 21). RSA Chapter 91-A. Access to Governmental Records and Meetings. Retrieved from www.gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/html/VI/91-A/91-A-3.htm

Town of Milton. (2020, July). BOS Meeting Minutes, June 15, 2020. Retrieved from www.miltonnh-us.com/sites/g/files/vyhlif916/f/minutes/06-15-2020_meetingminutes.pdf

Town of Milton. (2020, July 3). BOS Meeting Agenda, July 6, 2020. Retrieved from www.miltonnh-us.com/sites/g/files/vyhlif916/f/agendas/07-06-2020_bosagenda_final_0.pdf

Town of Milton. (2020, July 6). BOS Meeting Agenda, July 8, 2020. Retrieved from www.miltonnh-us.com/sites/g/files/vyhlif916/f/agendas/a_07-08-2020_bosagenda_final.pdf

Town of Milton. (2020, June 22). Milton Select-Board Vacancy Needs to Be Filled. Retrieved from www.miltonnh-us.com/sites/g/files/vyhlif916/f/news/milton_select_board_vacancy_needs_to_be_filled_003.pdf

Youtube. (1965). Cone of Silence. Retrieved from www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1eUIK9CihA&feature=youtu.be&t=19

An Inconvenient Freedom

By Ian Aikens | July 4, 2020

As the annual holiday most associated with the idea of liberty, it would not be an understatement to say that limited government took a massive hit this year. The virus was one thing, but the disastrous effects of the lockdowns will be felt for years to come. Worse still is what appears to be approval from most folks that the lockdowns were the correct course of action for state and local governments to take. While one can’t trust the mainstream media to put anything in perspective, I do believe a poll I read a few months back that 81% of the respondents did NOT want the lockdowns to end and were concerned about opening up too soon.

Incredibly, even here in the Live Free or Die state, it appears that most people have succumbed to the idea that “this time it’s different.” Really? If you check even the CDC records, in the 2017-2018 flu season, there were anywhere from 46,000 to 95,000 deaths in the US. For those with longer memories, you might recall the 1968-1969 Hong Kong flu season when an estimated 100,000 people perished in the US. Benjamin Franklin’s eternal words, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety” come to mind. Should our state motto be changed to read “Live Free AND Die”?

I moved to this state specifically because it had a reputation for being liberty-oriented. What a major disappointment when our governor issued Emergency Order #17 and required all “non-essential” Granite Staters to stay at home. Of course, many people were already cutting back on their social contacts as news of the virus was everywhere, but not everyone was, so the heavy hand of government stepped in to “protect” us. The initial emergency order was only 4 pages long, but Exhibit A describing “essential” jobs was 11 pages long. My own industry was not originally listed as “essential,” but my professional trade association raised Cain, and voilà suddenly we were added to the list and became “essential.” So much for there being any doubt about the arbitrariness of it all.

On the other hand, I have great respect for how the pandemic was handled in South Dakota. The governor’s executive order was only 2 pages long, and there was no lockdown. As the governor stated, it’s the residents of South Dakota who are primarily responsible for their own safety. These days, what a radical thought to proclaim publicly—and as a government official too—that people have to take care of themselves and not expect the government to take care of them. They have the freedom to be treated like adults but also the responsibility to face the consequences of their choices. The governor noted that she was trusting them to act like responsible adults during the pandemic, so there was no need for authoritarian behavior like in other states.

Of course, the government control freaks weren’t keen on letting some folks keep their liberties intact, so when there was an outbreak of the virus at a meat plant in South Dakota, the governor took a lot of heat for not locking down the state. Unlike other governors who caved in to mounting pressure, she once again reiterated her non-authoritarian stance and also pointed out that meat plants were deemed essential by the president, so they would have been open anyway during a lockdown.

So, does liberty really work or are we destined for gloom and doom if our leaders don’t treat us like children? Obviously the original “models” were pathetic in how far they were off base, but let’s look at some actual data a few months into the pandemic. New Hampshire is not very different from South Dakota as it’s mostly rural. With a population of 1.36 million, it’s the 10th least populated state, while South Dakota is the 5th least populated state with a population of around 882,000. As of this week, New Hampshire had 373 corona-related deaths, while South Dakota had 93. Dividing the number of deaths by the total population, the virus death rate is .027% per capita for New Hampshire and .013% for South Dakota. If lockdowns save lives, then why is the rate lower for South Dakota, which had no lockdown? As for unemployment as of 06/19/20, the rate for New Hampshire was 14.5% and 9.4% for South Dakota. So apparently authoritarianism isn’t good for your livelihood—or even your health.

To be completely fair to our governor, one of our state reps told me that when some of them complained to the governor that state troopers were pulling drivers over during the initial phase of the lockdown to check why they were out driving, he vowed to put a stop to that nonsense. From what I’ve read, he kept his word, and there were none of the really outrageous civil liberty violations here like arresting surfers, citing people sitting in their cars watching the sunset, taking down the license numbers of cars in church parking lots during Easter Sunday, and the disgusting “Karens” who turned in their neighbors to local police departments and “good citizen” government hotlines.

As today’s holiday approached, there’s been a mainstream media feeding frenzy about the president visiting South Dakota and Mount Rushmore for a celebration and fireworks. The governor said, “We’ve told people to focus on personal responsibility. Every one of them has the opportunity to make a decision that they’re comfortable with. So, we will be having celebrations of American independence. We told those folks that have concerns that they can stay home. But those who want to come and join us, we’ll be giving out free face masks, if they choose to wear one. But we won’t be social distancing.” Needless to say, those who celebrate the god of government control are fit to be tied. Ignoring CDC guidelines is akin to or perhaps worse than heresy.

If I were a bit more cynical, I would say the governor’s critics are hoping for lots of new infections and, better still, deaths resulting from today’s celebration in South Dakota. But I prefer to focus on being happy that there’s actually an elected official who is actively promoting self-ownership, personal responsibility, and self-reliance. Perhaps the meaning behind today’s holiday hasn’t been lost after all.

References:

Baumann, Beth. (2020, April 18). SD Gov. Noem Drops a Truth Bomb on Critics Demanding She Issue a Stay-at-Home Order. Retrieved from https://townhall.com/tipsheet/bethbaumann/2020/04/18/sd-gov-kristi-noem-claps-back-at-critics-who-wanted-her-to-implement-a-statewide-stayathome-order-n2567167

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1968 Pandemic (H3N2 virus). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1968-pandemic.html

Cummings, William. (2020, July 1). ‘We won’t be social distancing’ at Mount Rushmore celebration with Trump, says SD Gov. Noem. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/07/01/kristi-noem-social-distancing-mount-rushmore-trump/5354257002/

Fund, John. (2020, June 7). Kristi Noem: The Governor Who Stayed the Course. Retrieved from https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/06/coronavirus-pandemic-south-dakota-governor-kristi-noem-stayed-the-course/

State of New Hampshire – Governor Chris Sununu. EXHIBIT A to Emergency Order #17. Retrieved from https://htv-prod-media.s3.amazonaws.com/files/emergency-order-17-1585267833.pdf

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020, June 19). Local Area Unemployment Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/web/laus/laumstrk.htm

Wikipedia. 2017-2018 United States Flu Season. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017%E2%80%932018_United_States_flu_season

Non-Public BOS Session Scheduled (July 6, 2020)

By Muriel Bristol | July 3, 2020

The Milton Board of Selectmen (BOS) have posted their agenda for a BOS meeting to be held Monday, July 6.

The BOS meeting is scheduled to begin with a Non-Public session beginning at 6:00 PM. That agenda has one Non-Public item classed as 91-A3 II (a).

(a) The dismissal, promotion, or compensation of any public employee or the disciplining of such employee, or the investigation of any charges against him or her, unless the employee affected (1) has a right to a meeting and (2) requests that the meeting be open, in which case the request shall be granted.

This likely has to do with compensation, rather than the other possibilities. (The Town government has posted four positions).


Due to their concerns regarding Covid-19, there will be no public in attendance and, therefore, no public comment. The session may be watched remotely through the usual YouTube means or by teleconference. The links for both are in their original agenda, for which there is a link in the References below.

The quasi-Public portion of the agenda has New Business, Old Business, Other Business, and some housekeeping items.


Under New Business are scheduled four agenda items: 1) Update Regarding Covid-19 (Novel Coronavirus) Operational Activities / Plans, 2) Ira Miller’s General Store – Tax Abatement Agreement in lieu of RSA 79-E application, 3) Jones Brook Discussion, 4) Vote to Authorize Tax Exempt Drawdown Basis Tax Anticipation Note for Fiscal Year 2020.

Update Regarding Covid-19 (Novel Coronavirus) Operational Activities/Plans. One supposes, by the very terms of the meeting announcement, that the Covid-19 is still among us. We will evidently hear an update on those things with which the BOS has been active.

There will be a fifth ReopenNH rally at the State House in Concord, NH, July 4, from noon until 2 PM. This one will include a prayer, a reading of the Declaration of Independence, children’s activities, and a parade.

Ira Miller’s General Store – Tax Abatement Agreement in lieu of RSA 79-E application. Under the Community Revitalization Tax Relief Incentive (RSA 79-E), a redevelopment project resulting in a substantial rehabilitation (at least $75,000 or 15% of the total existing assessed value), any new taxable value directly generated by the renovation can be freed from the levying of property taxes for five years (for a substantial renovation), with an additional four years possible for a property listed or eligible to list on the National Register of Historic places.

Jones Brook Discussion. A bit cryptic. Either the watershed, conservation area, or partnership of that name is to be discussed.

Vote to Authorize Tax Exempt Drawdown Basis Tax Anticipation Note for Fiscal Year 2020. In which Milton’s Town government plumbs the depths: borrowing in order to spend. Taxpayers will henceforth pay not only their taxes, but interest on those taxes. Do you want to pay more in taxes than need be in order to pay interest on borrowed money? I know I don’t.

Aah, but is bond interest in the default budget? Probably not.

Tax Anticipation Note (TAN): “A municipal bond, usually with a maturity of less than one year, issued on the assumption that the debt will be paid back on future tax revenue. Municipalities issue tax anticipation notes to provide cash for immediate or time sensitive needs.”

Tax Exempt: “Federal tax laws require an analysis of a governmental unit’s cash flow needs if the borrowing is to be done on a tax-exempt basis. The need is demonstrated by preparing month-by-month cash flow estimates for the funds for which the borrowing will be made. … The statutes under which notes and warrants are authorized are likely to include a formula or dollar amount limiting the amount of notes or warrants that may be lawfully issued. They are typically payable solely from the taxes or revenues being anticipated.”

Major Hogan: What do you do when you’re short of cash? Lt. Sharpe: Do without, sir. Hogan: You borrow, Richard, from a bank.


Under Old Business are scheduled three items: 5) Request for a One-year Extension for Completion of Project on Tax Deed Auction Property Located at 1121 White Mountain Highway (Issuance of Certificate of Occupancy), 6) Status of following tax deeded structures: 20 Dawson, 79 Charles and 565 White Mountain Highway, and 7) Possible Conservation Commission Appointment.

Request for a One-year Extension for Completion of Project on Tax Deed Auction Property Located at 1121 White Mountain Highway (Issuance of Certificate of Occupancy). The owner of the so-called Blue House, which sold at auction last year, with covenants for repair within the year, has requested an extension.

Status of following tax deeded structures: 20 Dawson, 79 Charles and 565 White Mountain Highway. Properties not disposed of when the prior one sold at auction.

Possible Conservation Commission Appointment. Another “selection” (see next agenda item).


Under Other Business That May Come Before the Board is scheduled one item: 8) Open submissions for Select Board Vacancies and Announcement of Applicant Names.

Open submissions for Select Board Vacancies and Announcement of Applicant Names. Herein lies a tale, no doubt, likely one we will not hear. It would seem that one or more of the selectmen (“vacancies” being the plural form) is to be replaced, per statute, by a special “selection” rather than a special election. Those doing the selecting were themselves elected by a plurality of a minority of the electorate, but they did at least face an election.

The only statute alternative is to have a judge make the “selection” rather than the remaining selectmen. Hmm.


There will be the approval of prior minutes (from the quasi-Public session of June 15, 2020, the quasi-Public session of June 30, 2020, the non-Public session of June 30, 2020, an expenditure report, administrator comments, and BOS comments.

The administrator comments will address the first meeting report of the Local Government Efficiency Task Force™; the receipt of the GOFERR grant reimbursement; and “other.”

The Milton recipients of $288,319.13 in grants from the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery (GOFERR) were Eastern Boats, Inc. ($190,067.26), Shortridge Academy, LLC ($78,393.22), Aerial NDT Inspection Inc. ($11,150.72), Milton Associates, LLC ($4,534.26), and Mary V`S Unique Creations ($4,173.67).


Mr. S.D. Plissken contributed to this article.


References:

GOFERR. (2020). Main Street Relief Fund. Retrieved from www.goferr.nh.gov/

State of New Hampshire. (2016, June 21). RSA Chapter 91-A. Access to Governmental Records and Meetings. Retrieved from www.gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/html/VI/91-A/91-A-3.htm

Town of Milton. (2020, July 3). BOS Meeting Agenda, July 6, 2020. Retrieved from www.miltonnh-us.com/sites/g/files/vyhlif916/f/agendas/07-06-2020_bosagenda_final_0.pdf

Town of Milton. (2020, June 22). Milton Select-Board Vacancy Needs to Be Filled. Retrieved from www.miltonnh-us.com/sites/g/files/vyhlif916/f/news/milton_select_board_vacancy_needs_to_be_filled_003.pdf

Youtube. (1965). Cone of Silence. Retrieved from www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1eUIK9CihA&feature=youtu.be&t=19

More Than You Might Think

By S.D. Plissken | July 2, 2020

We have seen that our newly-established Local Government Efficiency Task Force has begun its work with questions of how to find other revenue sources. That is to say, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) do not seem to feel that Milton has budget and spending problems, as such, but an income shortage instead.

They are wrong of course, as is their wont. A correspondent directed our attention to a recent article in the Concord Monitor regarding average Police budgets in New Hampshire.

According to this article, NH cities and towns spent in a range between $100 and $554 per capita for their Police services in 2019, with the average community spending $194 per capita. Milton, at $201 per capita, spent more than the average community.

Our neighboring city of Rochester reportedly spent $222 per capita, which was relatively low for a city, while our neighboring towns of Farmington, Middleton, and Wakefield spent $209, $188, and $161 respectively.

Milton taxpayers might well ask themselves whether our Police requirements and, therefore, our per capita Police expenses, align more closely with those of Rochester or those of Middleton and Wakefield. (Keeping in mind that our other neighbors in Lebanon, ME, have no police at all, relying instead on their County Sheriff).

Taxpayers might well ask these questions, as it would seem that our BOS have little interest in asking on our behalf.

References:

Concord Monitor. (2020, June 24). How Much Does Your Community Spend on Police? More Than You Might Think. Retrieved from www.concordmonitor.com/How-Much-Does-Your-Community-Spend-on-Police-34923904

Remote Local Government Efficiency Task Force Meeting Scheduled – June 29, 2020

By S.D. Plissken | June 29, 2020

The Local Government Efficiency Task Force announced that its inaugural quasi-public meeting will be held today at 6:00 PM.

Its published agenda prefixed its title with the adjective “Remote,” which is meant apparently to signify a “public” meeting under the Governor’s Covid-19 workaround of closed meetings, without any public comment at all, that are “public” only in the sense that they are broadcast to the public or that the public may listen by telephone. Presumably, it is not intended to signify a remote local meeting, which would be to pile on another oxymoron. (The original one having been “government efficiency” or “local government efficiency”).

This new “task force” was initially identified also as an “independent” committee, which it would not be, – even in government speak – if constituted as discussed previously. An actual independent committee would be one composed mostly – if not entirely – of members who are not Town officials or apparatchiks.

A “Joint” committee would be one whose members are drawn from several different bodies or authorities, such as from the Board of Selectmen and School Board. A “Select” or “Special” committee is one appointed for a defined and limited time period for a particular purpose only. This might be termed alternatively an “Ad Hoc” (Latin for “to this” or “for this” purpose) committee.

The time period put forward for this Local Government Efficiency Task Force to fulfill its purpose has been estimated at twelve to eighteen months, or even longer, i.e., well after the current budget process, well after the next election, and perhaps even after the next budgeting process. It is truly amazing how these things “work.”

It would seem that those seeking tax reductions as precipitate as the tax increases have been might have to look elsewhere.

The Task Force’s agenda has six main topics: [1)] Introductions and Statements of Individual Goals, 2) Discussion of Ideas and Approaches, 3) Revenue / Tax Base Growth and Diversification, [4)] Operational Efficiencies, [5)] Organization, and [6)] Other Business.

Introductions and Statements of Individual Goals. In which we meet the members.

Discussion of Ideas and Approaches. In which we might hear of their general approach and their initial thoughts. I had once a boss that explained that consultants mostly return and support what management asked them to find at the outset. And that lies in the questions being asked below.

Revenue / Tax Base Growth and Diversification. a) What grows the tax base? b) What kinds of impacts do different types of growth have on the community? c) What opportunities do we have to create revenue brainstorming session (additional Solar Panel Farm, leasing of town facilities, advertising revenue possibilities), d. Other Ideas and Suggestions.

The questions all suggest that the Town government hopes still to continue merrily along at current or even larger levels, but that someone else might be found to foot the ever-increasing bill.

The questions do suggest some dim awareness that regulatory restrictions have hampered growth and, consequently, tax revenues. In this, the task force seems to have identified already the well-known Kindergarten principle: don’t hit people and don’t take their stuff. Regrettably, they seem to have taken away the wrong lesson. They hope to find and take more stuff.

They do not seem to consider “growth” to be a concern of property owners, as such, but a “communal” one. One supposes that they might next to be speaking of taxes as an “investment.”

Operational Efficiencies. a) What ideas do you have that might increase efficiencies? [E.g.,] Energy Conservation, Cooperative purchasing with school, regionally, Are there opportunities to combine departments / functions?, Are there other opportunities to regionalize?

It is better late than never to eliminate duplication, but it has been inexplicable that it has taken so long. There is an organizational efficiency that taxpayers should consider. Why would one ever establish, depend, or expand upon an organization that spends first and considers organizational efficiencies last?

Organization. a) Election of Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary; b) Review of and proposed amendments to Task Force By-laws (you are a subcommittee of the Board of Selectmen, so these are samples – any by-laws ultimately would need approval by the Select Board); c) Do you want to put together subcommittees for the areas Identified Above?

Strictly speaking, a subcommittee of the BOS would be composed entirely of members of the parent committee, i.e. the Board of Selectmen.

Well, we shall see, will we not?


We always carry out by committee anything in which any one of us alone would be too reasonable to persist.  – Frank Moore Colby


References:

Town of Milton. (2020, June 26). Remote Local Government Efficiency Task Force Agenda, June 29, 2020. Retrieved from www.miltonnh-us.com/sites/g/files/vyhlif916/f/events/06-29-2020_et_agenda.pdf

Opting Out

By Ian Aikens | June 15, 2020

While “Staying at Home” recently, I decided to get my taxes out of the way once and for all. I was unpleasantly surprised to discover that I owed a larger-than-expected amount on my state income tax. I know they say we have no state income tax here in New Hampshire, but that’s baloney. If you have received more than $2,400 in income in interest, dividends, or annuities in one year, you will pay the State of New Hampshire a 5% tax on the total. Of course, they do have some of the usual exemptions for age and blindness (and why not deafness too – isn’t that discrimination?), but if that isn’t a tax on income, then I don’t know what is. They say it’s a tax on passive income, not earned income, but a tax is a tax, no matter what you call it.

However, what I did discover is New Hampshire has a great option available to take a credit against this income tax by making a donation to a school scholarship program. This 85% credit, not deduction, is part of the New Hampshire Education Tax Credit Program. It serves two worthwhile purposes: it helps children from families with less financial means attend non-government schools, and it gives state bureaucrats less money to waste. The latest data shows there were 413 students in the state benefiting from this program at 58 participating schools. This is a lowly participation rate of less than 1% of the 47,584 students who are income-eligible statewide. Still, to the families of those 413 students, even a mere scholarship of 15% of government school per-student spending means a lot.

So, how does the program work? As with all government programs, they come with their share of rules, conditions, and requirements. That said, the requirements don’t appear to be particularly onerous. To be eligible, the family members must be New Hampshire residents, the child must be between the ages of 5 and 20 (and not graduated from high school) or must be entering kindergarten for the first time or entering 2nd-12th grades and coming from a government school. The family’s income cannot exceed 300% of the federal poverty level, which in lay terms means $51,720 for a family of 2, $65,160 for a family of 3, and exponentially an additional $13,440 for each additional family member. There are only two government-approved scholarship organizations that qualify for the education tax credit program – the Children’s Scholarship Fund and the Giving and Going Alliance. I checked out both organizations before I gave my donation, and both seemed just fine to me. The Children’s scholarship Fund is for nonsectarian schools, and the Giving and Going Alliance is for the more faith-based crowd. Most important, the scholarships are awarded to students struggling in their current government schools to allow them to attend any school—private, religious, out-of-district government school, even home schooled—that the parents deem best for their child.

The tax credit program was established in 2012 by SB372 and launched in 2013. It only applied to business organizations, which could utilize the 85% credit against the Business Profits Tax (BPT) and/or Business Enterprise Tax (BET) or Interest & Dividends Tax (I&D). However, HB1686 extended the same credit to individuals to use against any I&D tax owing. The program has an annual cap of $6 million, and while contributions from donors have increased over the years from $20,000 in fiscal year 2014 to $381,000 in fiscal year 2018, it still has never gotten anywhere close to the cap.

For years, those who purport to help the poor have been on the offensive to kill the program or chop it down as much as possible. One of their favorite arguments is the program is for the benefit of “the rich.” The data does not support their claim. In the 2018-2019 school year, 61.4% of the students in the Children’s Scholarship Fund and 44.9% of the students in the Giving and Going Alliance qualified for free or reduced-price lunches.

Their next favorite argument is that the program “carves out” $6 million that would otherwise go to government schools. More bunk. Firstly, the maximum tax credit is 85% of the $6 million, which is $5.1 million. Secondly, up through March 8, 2019, the total tax credits claimed since the program started are only $2,218,254. That’s only 7.25% of what could have been claimed over a 6-year period.

Another favorite rant against the program is that it drives up property tax rates. Considering how small the program is, this is completely laughable. The funds that would have been paid to the state if the tax credits had not been claimed go to the general fund (a big black hole), and since only 24% of state funding goes to education, there’s a 76% chance the funds would have gone to other priorities than education. If you count every dollar given out on a per-student basis since the program began, it would only come to $12.66 per student. However, per the Department of Education’s Office of Student Finance, the total annual cost at government schools is an average of $18,991/student. Looking at it another way, even if you included all the educational tax credits claimed from 2014-2019 (6 years) and compared that to what the state spent in just the last fiscal year ($1.4 billion), that’s .16 of just 1%. Any way you slice it, the program is a drop in the ocean of what is spent at government schools.

If they were really so concerned about property tax increases, maybe they should look at the Veterans Tax Credit Program. Its numbers are huge compared to the peanut Education Tax Credit Program. In 2016, 54,790 veterans claimed $26.76 million in property tax credits through the veterans’ program as compared to a few hundred students. As an example, looking at Manchester, New Hampshire’s largest school district, in 2016, 2,797 veterans claimed the credit for a loss in tax revenue of $1.2 million. Contrast that with 27 students who received scholarships at a total loss in tax revenue of $133,534, which includes the additional grant for the federal lunch program. That’s roughly 11% of the veterans’ credit, so why go after peanuts if your real concern is high property taxes?

Of course, the real elephant in the room is the increase in state spending on education despite the steady drop in student populations. From 2009-2018, the statewide average decline in enrollment was 10.1%. However, spending and adding staff have gone in the opposite direction. From 1992-2015, New Hampshire government schools’ student-staff ratio declined from 8.6 to 5.8 (national average was 8.0 in 2015). It is the dramatic increase in non-teaching staff that is driving the wild spending. In 1992 the schools had an average of 19.6 students for every non-teaching staff member; by 2015, the number was down to 10.8 students for every non-teaching staff member. If schools are for teaching, why are so many non-teachers needed?

Despite all these extra resources at government schools, clearly one-size-fits-all doesn’t work for every child. Why begrudge children who do better in non-government schools (and for the most part are not from the upper echelons of society)? Such a large pool of students who are eligible for the federal school lunch program suggests that students who use the scholarship program tend to do worse in government schools and need extra attention and resources. So, by leaving government schools, that should not only reduce the burden there, it should reduce it even more since those who leave require more services. If the money truly followed the child, then this miniscule number of students should actually get more resources, not less. However, under the education tax credit program, the average scholarship for 2018-2019 was $2,301, and the rest of the tuition costs was shouldered by the families. Not to mention transportation costs, which parents have to arrange themselves. And yet these families manage to get their kids into better schools at great expense to themselves and are grateful for the program due to better outcomes for their children.

This is a win-win for everyone. Certainly, the parents and children are happier with the expanded choices afforded by the program. In surveys required by the program, 93.8% of the parents in the Children’s Scholarship Fund and 96.9% of the parents in the Giving and Going Alliance indicated that they were satisfied with the program. Government schools get to lose a few “customers” who are better served elsewhere anyway, and the foregone revenue has a negligible effect on their budgets. Perhaps the only losers are the power control freaks who cannot stand it when anyone opts out of their centralized control plans.

References:

Cline, Andrew. (2019, March 27). The Education Tax Credit Program: Fact vs. Fiction. Retrieved from jbartlett.org/wp-content/uploads/The-Education-Tax-Credit-Program-Fact-vs.-Fiction.pdf

ed Choice. (2020). School Choice – New Hampshire Education Tax Credit Program. Retrieved from www.edchoice.org/school-choice/programs/new-hampshire-education-tax-credit-program/

NH Department of Revenue Administration. (2017). The NH Education Tax Credit Program. Retrieved from www.revenue.nh.gov/quick-links/education-tax-credit.htm

NH Department of Revenue Administration. (2018 and 2019 ED-05). Children’s Scholarship Fund Organization Report. Retrieved from www.revenue.nh.gov/quick-links/documents/childrens-scholarship-fund-ed-5.pdf

NH Department of Revenue Administration. (2018 and 2019 ED-05). Giving and Going Alliance Scholarship Organization Report. Retrieved from www.revenue.nh.gov/quick-links/documents/giving-and-going-alliance.pdf

Public BOS Session Scheduled (June 15, 2020)

By Muriel Bristol | June 12, 2020

The Milton Board of Selectmen (BOS) have posted their agenda for a quasi-Public BOS meeting to be held Monday, June 15, at 4:30 PM.

Due to their concerns regarding Covid-19, there will be no public in attendance and, therefore, no public comment. The session may be watched remotely through the usual YouTube means or by teleconference. The links for both are in their original agenda, for which there is a link in the References below.


The Public portion of the agenda has a Limited Agenda, and some housekeeping items.

Under New Business is scheduled a single agenda item, albeit with two parts: 1) Update Regarding Covid-19 (Novel Coronavirus) Operational Activities/Plans. a). Beach and Summer Camp Operations Discussion with Possible Action, b). Town Hall Hours and Operations Discussion with Possible Action.

ReopenNH
Third ReopenNH Rally at NH State House, May 16 (Milton Observer)

Update Regarding Covid-19 (Novel Coronavirus) Operational Activities/Plans. One supposes, by the very terms of the meeting announcement, that the Covid-19 is still among us. We will evidently hear an update on those things with which the BOS has been active.

Governor Sununu announced yesterday, June 11, that his “Stay at Home” order expires Monday, June 15, i.e., the day of the BOS meeting. Gatherings will no longer be limited to ten people. Gyms, racetracks, charitable gaming facilities, libraries and funeral homes will be allowed to reopen, with modifications. Indoor movie theaters, amusement parks, performing arts venues and adult day centers may reopen Monday, June 29, with some restrictions.

a). Beach and Summer Camp Operations Discussion with Possible Action. Newspapers have published photographs of fair-sized crowds at Jenness State Beach in Rye, NH, from Friday June 5. In Milton, the BOS discussion might feature red tape X’s on the beach at six-foot intervals?

b). Town Hall Hours and Operations Discussion with Possible Action. As of today, open “by appointment.”


There will be the approval of prior minutes (from the Workshop session of May 20, 2020, the quasi-Public session of May 29, 2020, the quasi-Public session of June 1, 2020, and the Non-Public session of June 1, 2020), and BOS comments.


Mr. S.D. Plissken contributed to this article.


References:

Town of Milton. (2020, June 12). BOS Meeting Agenda, June 15, 2020. Retrieved from www.miltonnh-us.com/sites/miltonnh/files/agendas/06-15-2020_bosagenda_final.pdf

A Tight Place

By S.D. Plissken | May 28, 2020

The Milton Board of Selectmen (BOS) find themselves in a tight place. Their government has simply grown too large, and, as a consequence, their budgets and the levels of taxation needed to fund them, have simply grown too large too.

Pooh Bear Stuck in Rabbit's Door - Back End
Pooh as a Towel Rack

One is reminded of a tale from A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh: “In Which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets into a Tight Place.” In the story, Pooh visits Rabbit’s burrow and, while there, greedily consumes Rabbit’s stock of honey (for which Pooh has a bottomless appetite). When it comes time to leave, the now larger Pooh gets stuck in Rabbit’s front door. He can neither be pushed through to the outside or pulled back into the inside. Not as he is now, anyway. They simply have to wait until Pooh loses the weight that he gained by eating all the honey. In the meantime, Rabbit tries to make the best of a bad situation by using Pooh’s back end for other purposes.

Now, Pooh – elsewhere described as being a “bear of very little brain” – eventually loses enough weight to escape this particular predicament.

Over their last few meetings, the BOS have been pondering where they have become stuck. Their overly large budgets having been roundly rejected by Milton’s voters, already rejected more often than not in recent years, and now two years in succession. (To be fair, these particular selectmen are responsible only for the most recent in a long train of abuses).

These selectmen began their year well enough by acknowledging their budget problem – a first step in a recovery – and proposing freezes until they could extricate themselves. However, they have evidently not yet reached bottom, as they posted job openings the very next day, and voted yet another in a subsequent meeting. (Vice-Chairman Rawson was a rare dissenting vote on that one).

They are meanwhile seeking applicants to be the minority on a “Local Government Efficiency Task Force,” which is to seek the Lost Dutchman’s Mine of government efficiency. One of its several objectives is to find other sources of revenue. A cynic might suppose that little or no actual changes are proposed and that spending is to continue at current levels, simply through finding other people to pay for it.

The solar panel farm and a cell tower were cited as examples of other sources. As in mathematical proofs, some elements might be “necessary,” but are not in and of themselves “sufficient.” Such money as those examples added was spent long ago on increased government, rather than tax reduction. And there have been also less exciting instances of this sort put forward in the past – for example, the contentious landfill proposal of some years ago.

Space aliens from the eighth dimension might present themselves at the Emma Ramsey Center for a thorough probing. However, it is much more likely that any “other sources” of revenue will just come from the other pockets of the present victims. For example, transfer station fee changes, i.e., fee increases, have appeared on a recent agenda. (Some might remember that these fees did not exist at all just a few years ago).

Several bills were put forward at the State level in this most recent biennium, whereby some legislators sought to add back-door income taxes to our burden. They too sense that property taxation has reached already its outer limits, but are unwilling to curb their appetite. They are seeking instead to add other revenue sources rather than to push back from the table. It would have been, as the British have it, just the “thin end of the wedge.”

The Task Force is expected to take twelve to eighteen months, or longer, to reach its conclusion, if any there be. Its majority of Town officials might be expected to have a vested interest in continuing to feed the beast. How likely are they to discover any redundancies, even those right under their noses? That Milton has both an Assessor and a Contract Assessor can be seen at a glance, as well as its having both a Planning Board and a Contract Town Planner. The BOS is under no obligation to adopt its recommendations, if any there will be.

Meanwhile, the BOS will have gained twelve to eighteen months, or longer, in which they might proceed blithely along their “tried and true” rut. Let’s help them with their annual calculation: a now smaller annual percentage increase (thank God for the Tax Cap’s small blessing) multiplied by much too much government will yield a yet more expensive government. (Nobody there has heard of zero-based budgeting). Under ordinary circumstances, they might be able to kick the can down the road for a few more years, before arriving right back where they started.

But we live in extraordinary times. The “Black Swan” of the Coronavirus just punctured the carefully nurtured economic bubble. (If it had not been that, it would have been something else). Let us suppose optimistically that the whole economic lockdown ends right now, this very week. This year’s GDP, that faulty measure of the nation’s economic progress and wealth, would be smaller by the two-plus months of the lockdown. (And New Hampshire’s and Milton’s GDPs smaller along with it). Yes, of course it would, that much is obvious.

Unfortunately, the usual inanities are being deployed again at the national level. Congress voted and the President approved trillions of dollars in additional stimulus spending. They have done so four, or five, times now in quick succession, one loses count. Now, the Federal government does not actually have any trillions to spend in this manner. And we have just seen that the GDP – the national wealth, if you will – just got smaller, rather than larger.

You see, at the Federal level they have the advantage of possessing a magical money tree. They just borrow the money from the future, i.e., expand the money supply, which is the very dictionary definition of inflation. This has the effect of creating greater numbers of devalued dollars. This reduction in dollar value extends to those in your pocket, as well as those in your bank account, those in your retirement savings, and, for those poor souls on a fixed income, those in their pensions or annuities.

Milton’s last two DRA “flash” valuation increases of recent years have been based upon the wildly-inflated prices of the last two housing bubbles. New Hampshire’s tax model assumes a rough correlation between property valuations and ability to pay. That assumption no longer tracks in these recent Federally-induced housing bubbles. (One cannot slice off a piece of a fantasy valuation and use it to pay taxes). It would require sensible State and Town governments – rather than bears of very little brain – to recognize this disparity and to restrain their spending. The large and increasing gulf between fantasy valuations and the reality paychecks might be compared with our large and increasing dissatisfaction with these methods.

In the longer term, one might expect that housing valuations will tend to fall, given that we have a smaller GDP, a probable recession, unemployment approaching already 20%, and some businesses likely shuttered forever. Does anyone suppose the State DRA will be demanding any “flash” valuation decreases? Of course not, they will want to overtax us through one more cycle.

Our Town government, which was already unsustainable, might try desperately to preserve its bubble size. It might raise tax rates to compensate for declining values. (It did this last time around). It might raise its existing fees, fines, and taxes, across the spectrum, and even create new ones. (Ask any refugee from Massachusetts). It might punish us for not approving their budgets.

Or they might more reasonably scale back our Town government. They might reduce the amount of its annual “fund balance” exaction, which they could do immediately, and extend the timelines of their so-called “plans.”

Homer Holding on to the Can
Homer, are you just holding on to the can?

In Homer Simpson one encounters a more contemporary fictional character, but one with a cognitive capacity similar to Winnie the Pooh. In one episode, a soft drink vending machine accepts his money, but does not dispense his can of soda. He reaches up inside the machine to pull it out, but cannot. He grasps the can, but his hand becomes “stuck.” Various people try to extricate him from the machine. They arrive finally (and improbably) at a solution of just sawing off his hand. Just before they take that drastic step, one technician poses a final question: “Homer, are you just holding on to the can?” In the next scene we find him rubbing his arm while departing amidst howls of laughter.

Watching our wise overlords struggle to retain their current budget levels, one might well ask them the same question: “Selectmen, are you just holding on to the can?”

References:

Wikipedia. (2020, May 22). Black Swan Theory. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_swan_theory

Wikipedia. (2020, May 21). Winnie the Pooh (Book). Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winnie-the-Pooh_(book)

YouTube. (n.d.). Homer, Are You Just Holding on to the Can? Retrieved from www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qcipCQalzA