How do I begin to tell the story. . .

Bill Veazey

Love Story!  The love story of today is our romance with our tax dollars. It is nearly impossible to explain, let alone accept the largesse of our governments and their generosity with our money. The Federal government is out of control with spending while ignoring the annual waste of hundreds of billions of dollars.

Ordinary citizens, like me, are speaking out across the country, in blogs and on-line magazines like Rye Reflections. A recent article by Ellen Hume, research director of the Center for Future Civic Media at MIT click here is about this new form of journalism. Rye Reflection's own Jack Driscoll is highlighted, so be sure to read about this fascinating phenomenon.

Locally speaking, Hampton just doubled many land assessments near the ocean, as did New Castle, and Portsmouth is getting ready to commit their future tax dollars for many years to come.

The Portsmouth School Board voted to ask the City Council to fully fund $40.8 million for the Portsmouth Middle School on Parrott Avenue. The Herald Editorial click here of December 11th calls for going ahead with the project because everyone worked hard on bringing it to this point!  What has happened to common sense?

I have written many articles for Rye Reflections over the past three and one half years and tried not to be repetitive, however it is necessary to return again to the subject of taxation. Click here for my October article. Some of us have a hard time comprehending the magnitude of $40,800,000.00 U.S. dollars. Below are some examples of what that amount of money could mean.

1.    The Rye Public Safety Building cost around three million dollars. Picture thirteen such buildings on Parrott Avenue.  Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it, and yet that is what could be built for the price of this one school.

2.    Housing sales are down; so with the $40.8 million, the City could buy one hundred (100) houses in and around the Parrott Avenue region at an average of $400,000. each. I believe that would encompass almost all of the houses on Richards, Sherburne and Elwyn. There would be plenty of space, adequate bathrooms and more than enough playground area.

3.    The improvements to the Portsmouth Sewage Treatment plant must be done. There is no choice, and it could cost up to $50 million dollars. Would that be a better use of the limited tax dollars, rather than rebuilding a school, which is solid, substantial, and architecturally speaking, a real asset of Portsmouth. (Where is the Historical Society when you need them?) No more that $25 million was spent on each of the last five middle schools built in the state, most of which have far more students than 540, or even the optimistically projected 650 students.

I think you get the point. At a time when there are cut-backs, lay-offs, and most of our IRAs, 401k and other plans have gone down by 40 to 60%, we should not be raising taxes and spending this large excessive sum.

The solution I suggest, and I realize it's a tough call to make, is for the City Council to turn down the School Board's request and state clearly that their obligation is to the taxpayers of Portsmouth for sensible spending of their tax dollars; and further, that they will not back any project that exceeds the State Department of Education standards.

To offer additional guidance to the School Board, the Council could suggest that the architects, quickly, by March 1st, prepare specs for the local contractors to visit the existing school and present bids which would renovate it in a fashion that would be ‘green’, up to code, and perfectly suitable for educating the 540 middle school children who attend. Further, that if the contracts are awarded by May 15th, they could have their jobs done by August 30, 2009. School opens in September! Longer range renovations could be done the summer of 2010.

The reminder by the Herald Editorial Board in their Dec.11, 2008 editorial that “...the middle school was built in the early 1930s during even worse financial times.”, is interesting, but not particularly relative to today's dilemma. And the idea of splitting the cost into two bonds, suggests to me that perhaps the Editorial Board should go back to Middle School and re-learn that two halves still equal the whole. It won’t cost less!

Let’s bring some common sense into this equation.

January, 2009