8a773b7c-8068-4afa-818c-006601f3ee80I expected it to be a pleasant Saturday and, having tuned up the old rototiller, was anticipating a little pre-season gardening. I hadn’t planned on reading the paper anyway, but the last thing I expected to see was a story about me on page one, above the fold. But there it was, for all to see, carefully arranged quotes purporting that I had told a city council committee that the Dillant-Hopkins Airport was not viable.
Overall, it was a very well-written story outlining my concerns about how little the airport had to offer the average Keene taxpayer. What it left out though, and please read the meeting minutes, was that I said the airport should be run by an independent, self-funding, regional transportation authority instead of Keene taxpayers.
Fast-forward to today. I had finished planting my peas, spinach, Swiss chard and beets, then went to the office for a couple hours. Opening the paper’s newly-redesigned Voices section, there it was again! Sentinel columnist John McGauley wrote that “…a city council member now thinks our airport is unnecessary…”
One seemingly innocuous omission from a front page story had taken on a life of it’s own. I hadn’t planned on correcting the omission. After all, to err is human, right? But now it seems that even Sentinel columnists are willing to stake their reputations on single-source reporting. When I was a reporter, that was a big no-no. (I forgive you, John, but you shoulda’ called).
Let me be clear. When the late Emile Legere bought six acres of cornfield in 2012 across the Ashuelot from the airport and a group calling itself “Friends of the Airport” asked the city to let him take test core samples of airport property, it became clear that there was regional interest in developing the languishing endeavor.
Senior city staff and several city councils and mayors had allowed the taxpayer-funded airport to run in the red for decades and I thought, “Wow, maybe now the professionals will get involved,” and asked for more details. But alas, Emile died and his dreams along with him.
Later, I thought maybe a regional role would be discussed by the committee charged with writing an airport master plan. But, I was denied an appointment to the city’s airport advisory committee, I think but hope not, because of my early criticism of the city’s handling of Federal aviation grants effecting the Edgewood neighborhood. I’m not optimistic that regionalization will be in that plan once it’s released later this year.
You can take a survey to express your feelings about the airport at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/EEN_Master_Plan
Regionalizing the airport shouldn’t be a taboo subject. It is this area’s best hope for attracting economic development into the region.
The Sentinel recently wrote a series of excellent articles about regional ambulance troubles in the Monadnock Region. The topic of the annual City/County delegation centered on it and other problems local governments are having trouble dealing with alone. The Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce is in the middle of a series of roundtable discussions about transportation, housing and other regional topics. Heck, we even have a Joint Procurement Committee with the school district to bulk-buy toilet paper!
Cutbacks on the State and Federal levels have made life very difficult for local governments and I think it’s time we said, “Enough!’ and start banding together to share responsibilities and maybe, even go so far as to stop engaging in unfunded State and Federal responsibilities.
I’ll go back to my beans and potatoes now and wait for next Saturday’s paper.

The quotes are coming in for solar street light units.

Whoa, you say! Isn’t Keene already planning a retrofit of the city’s 1,155 lights with LED fixtures? Yes, that’s true. The public works department announced in September an experimental display of 25 LED fixtures of different designs on a stretch of Marlboro Street to gauge community reaction to the wholesale conversion from HPS to LED. The total cost for the demonstration light fixtures is $6,981 with installation – $280 each.

The plan is to retrofit all city streetlights, as well as some on access roads, parking lots and parks. Today the city spends $165,000 annually on streetlight electricity and maintenance This doesn’t include lights in the downtown area, which are billed separately. The city would apply for the $50,000 LED streetlight conversion grant from our electrical utility, Eversource, to supplement the estimated $270,00-$350,00 cost of converting 1,155 streetlights.

In the Marlboro Street retrofit example Keene would reduce the total KWh from 13,839 KWh per year to 6,496 KWh per year, a 53% KWh reduction. Under the Eversource retrofit program the city would own the streetlights and be responsible for maintenance and replacement costs. Suppliers estimate that the average life of an LED retrofit is 20 years. A preliminary estimate of the 20 year cumulative savings of retrofitting the City’s inventory of HPS lamps to LED is about $1,500,000 and a payback of 3 to 4 years.

But, the city would still be buying electricity generated by fossil fuels, and take on the maintenance cost which is covered in the current monthly rental agreement.

As I was saying, the quotes are coming in for solar street light units.

The figures for the LED fossil fuel lights come in at between $230 – $350 each, plus the cost of electricity. The estimates I have gotten so far from solar streetlight suppliers for comparable wattage systems is $250, with no ongoing electricity costs. And, they send their own technician to install them.

It shouldn’t go unsaid that city staff have shown an incredible amount of foresight in their plan. I commend them because taking steps to decrease our carbon footprint and budget is the right thing to do.

I’m saying, let’s take an extra step. Let’s add a group of solar powered lights to the experiment before we retrofit the entire city.

 

 

 

Solar street light initiative

Posted: December 18, 2016 in Uncategorized

sslsI feel like I have to give a history lesson here.

Our whole culture was derived from exploiting land that didn’t belong to us, exploiting minerals without forethought of how it’s extraction effected the environment, and exploiting human labor without regard to individual well-being. And, we haven’t really changed that course. We’re still acting as though there is a limitless quantity of land, natural resources and human capital that will keep our gluttonous lifestyles going forever. Our economy is based upon growth of the GDP – again, not considering that there is a finite number of resources we can exploit to gain those stock market points.

But we’re not alone. Many of the developing nations are following our lead. But many are not.

Fossil fuels for example.
Because we have enacted laws requiring things like scrubber technology on our smokestacks and emission controls on our cars, we think that we can still use our atmosphere as a sewer. Some, who have traditionally opposed these technologies because it cuts into the profits of exploitation, want us to believe that we are no longer endangering our planet.

We’ve allowed the hydro-fracking of natural gas because we are reaching the end of the oil age. Instead of embracing technological advances in alternative energy, we’re squeezing that nickel until the buffalo grins and polluting our deep groundwater. Again, some deny that fracking is polluting our deep groundwater.

But fossil fuels effect us in more ways than the environment.

Wars are being fought to control land that bears these fossil fuels. And, these wars are not cheap. Our policy of resource imperialism has built the largest military machine that has ever existed on Earth. Thousands of people die in these wars each year. Public relations campaigns convince us that the wars are to protect our freedoms, but conveniently cover up the billions of dollars at stake for the world elite. So we feed it at the expense of other human concerns that, in my view, are much more important.

Let’s consider for a moment life without fossil fuels.

Because of our advanced technology today, we have an opportunity to set a new course that doesn’t rely upon fossil fuels. The Sun is this planet’s largest producer of energy. It’s been doing it for billions of years. That’s despite what some would have us believe – that the Earth is only 2,500 years old.

Plant life takes in the Suns rays and converts them into electro-chemicals that sustain all other life on the planet. The Sun is a natural engine source of energy. Why are we using fossil fuels to create ours instead? Simply put, the evolution of our technological knowledge brought us to fossil fuels first. And, our use of fossil fuels created a lifestyle that we got drunk on. We learned to depend upon it in so many ways. The industry grew like a gnarly vine throughout our economy and our lifestyle.

That’s why it’s so hard to change. Too many people and even institutions are heavily invested in it. The military industrial and political complexes have so intertwined that change is like unraveling a fouled fishing line. (Ironically, unraveling a fouled fishing line at first seems impossible, but the more you untangle it, the easier it gets.)

It’s easy for us humans to get hooked on things. We’re no different now than in the past. The downfall of Native Americans in North America was their addiction to the trade goods Europeans offered them. They thought they could play us off each other and end up the winners among other tribes. We now know what really happened was that they became addicted and let us get a foothold instead of throwing us out while they still had the chance.

Well, we’ve allowed fossil fuels to get a firm foothold. We depend on it to heat and cool our homes, power our automobiles and to provide jobs to the people who extract it from the Earth. The influence of fossil fuels has become almost insurmountable to those of us who believe it is time to move on to cleaner energy sources.

Monstrous wealth has been created in the hands of the utilities, manufacturers and the war machine needed to sustain their power. A lobby so powerful that makes even the most sensible initiatives impossible. So powerful that it influences lawmakers to set the rules against change.

Imagine if you will a solar panel on every street light in every city. The technology has existed for years. So why, a simple-minded outsider might ask, haven’t we placed those solar panels on those street lights? The reasons are basically the same, but in New Hampshire there is a set of laws known as “Net Metering”. What these laws do is cap the amount of alternative energy that can be fed into the electric grid by other than the utilities.

Since utilities in New Hampshire feed electricity into the grid largely produced by fossil-fuels, any excess solar energy that may be introduced by a homeowner or a municipality would dip into the utility’s profits.

It goes further. In the 1920’s the utilities began electrifying America and were able to leverage a deal with municipalities giving them almost total control over where those poles were located and what was placed upon them – for inperpetuity – forever. Those telephone poles you see lining our streets are owned by the utilities. In Keene they are Eversource and Fairpoint. If I were to tell you that the utilities have no obligation to allow a municipality to place it’s own equipment – i.e. solar-powered lights – upon them, what would you say? The deal they have with the City of Keene is to rent the light fixtures to the city and charge them for the fossil-fuel-generated electricity that they use.

So, I dare to tell you, the real reason we are not producing most of our electricity from solar energy isn’t the technology, but the self-interest of the fossil fuel machine.

All said, these things are not going to stop me from introducing a solar street light initiative to the Keene City Council next month. City staff will come forward with reasons why we can’t do it, and as you can see from my research, there are many reasons why we can’t. But, I’m only interested in the reasons that we should.

 

thNow that the final report of the Keene Drug Addiction Solutions Task Force has been made public, I urge that action be taken on its recommendations. We do not want this report to languish on a shelf gathering dust as has happened to so many other data-driven recommendations on how to deal effectively with the addiction issue facing our communities.

The report’s highest impact recommendations were:
● Support legislation for increased treatment, prevention, and recovery resources
● Support intervention and prevention efforts earlier with youth
● Increase access to detox facilities
● Increase resources for treatment
● Improve systems for resource allocation
● Support a continuum of care

This task force was comprised of law enforcement, city, county and school officials and highly skilled experts in the field of drug addiction. We came together to share ideas and collaborate with one another in our community’s struggle with this insidious disease.

The $64,000 question is, “why do people self-medicate themselves in such large and increasing numbers, and what can society do about it?” The causes and solutions are very common-sense and well within our reach if we listen to the experts and follow through with the recommendations in the Report.

But to do so means moving beyond the status-quo. Elected officials at all levels of government need to go beyond politically safe, stigma-driven policies and rethink their spending priorities – especially as they relate to the so-called “War On Drugs.” Businesses must rethink their employee policies by adopting sensible addiction treatment and recovery strategies.

It is not just people in positions of influence that have the power to address this illness. We all have a role to play in helping to stem this serious and growing problem in our communities and among our friends and family members. If you know someone with an addiction, see if there is anything you can do to help. We all have to rethink the prevalent attitude that addiction is a crime instead of an illness.

One example of the kind of thinking that must change is that local methadone clinics draw “bad” elements into the area. Some people won’t admit that such clinics are treating people from our own communities much more than any outsiders.. If we hope to effectively address addiction, we must stop sweeping the facts under the rug.

The good news coming out of this Report is that collaboration has already started to get meaningful results. And, now that the Task Force’s job is done, its members along with other community members and elected officials are likely to continue a closer communicative relationship with one another.

I give huge kudos to Sheriff Eli Rivera, Keene Police Chief Brian Costa, and those involved in the Cheshire County drug court system for recognizing that there are causal reasons for addiction that go beyond criminal intent, and for instituting policies to process cases with an eye toward recovery instead of incarceration. Let’s continue to redirect funding from areas with marginal success to those that data-driven studies say are more likely to yield results.

In conclusion, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of changing the way our government, business and neighbors address addiction. The same old methodology is a proven failure. We can’t continue to pound our thumbs and keep expecting it not to hurt.

With hope,

Terry M. Clark
Co-chair, Ad Hoc Addiction Solutions Task Force
14 Barrett Ave.
Keene, NH

 

mnh-signThe Cheshire County legislation delegation’s executive committee voted 9-3 this morning to endorse the so-called A2 plan that would renovate and expand the Maplewood nursing facility in Westmoreland. The issue goes to the full delegation meeting on Monday, October 17th.

In supporting his motion, Rep. Paul Berch (D-Westmoreland) cited popularity of the current site over a new facility in Keene by staff, residents and their families, the overall cost of the two proposals, and the fate of the current building if it were to be abandoned.

What to do with the current Maplewood site loomed large among other members as well, since learning last week that the Pennsylvania-based Caron Foundation was not interested in housing a drug rehabilitation treatment facility there. Adding focus, Rep. Frank Sterling (R-Rindge) reminded members of the still-vacant county jail which was abandoned when the county jail was moved to Keene.

In June, after nearly two years of meetings, consultations and reports, a county delegation subcommittee made two recommendations to determine the fate of the Maplewood Nursing Home.

The original proposal to upgrade the facility was made in 2008 to address structural problems, leaky roofs, clogged pipes and electrical problems in the 150-bed Maplewood facility. This morning’s recommendation from the executive committee would keep the facility in Westmoreland, and add a new wing, as opposed to building new facilities in Keene.

Backers of option B2, the “Neighborhood Design”, first proposed by Sullivan lawyer John Hoffman several years ago, cite the benefits of being centrally-located in Keene. Rep. Timothy Robertson, (D-Keene), said the nursing home should be closest to the population center of the county. Others have said that Keene offers other benefits like it’s proximity to other activities and services.

County Commissioner Stillman Rogers said after the vote that it’s not likely that a final decision could be acted upon this year because funds and time are needed to “get our ducks in line.”

Something that hasn’t gotten a lot of traction, though, is the impact of moving the facility on the Keene tax base.

Currently, as is the nature of being a county seat, Keene is home to hundreds of millions of dollars of tax-exempt property – churches, non-profits and government facilities – which has the effect of increasing the tax burden on residential homeowners. This would be on top of the millions of dollars the city pays annually to maintain infrastructure and police services that are used by county residents every day.

Even with the 5-6 year new-market tax credit scheme, moving the nursing home to Keene would eventually add to that burden by further decreasing the city’s tax base.

I don’t know how the full delegation will vote in October, but if the final decision is made in favor of moving the facility to Keene, it should be followed by serious discussion of Keene’s property tax contribution to the county budget.

 

 

 

 

It’s decision time for progressives again.

I’m familiar with it, but have never really have gotten used to it. Those are the compromises every pol has to make when his man loses -pardon the gender references.

I supported Fred Harris in 1976. That was the year fat cats got cut down to size with a tough new post-Watergate campaign finance law. It was said that they couldn’t buy that election. It gave people like us a fighting chance in presidential politics, and it put a premium on small contributions.

Well, it sort of worked out for Jimmy Carter, but before long the powers-that-be began destroying his agenda and his reputation. I compromised on Carter in 1980, but in retrospect, Ted Kennedy probably would have been better than the Reagan Revolution.

Then there was Tom Harkin against Bill Clinton in 1992.

Harkin wanted to break the back of the international oil cartel and bring down oil company profits. He spoke about full economic and legal justice for all Americans who suffered from discrimination. He wanted tax equity, jobs creation and national health care.

He lost and I compromised with Bill Clinton. We got NAFTA, but, the total administration agenda was better than a continuation of the Bush “New World Order.”

So you see I’ve done this before. As in those earlier eras, I have to decide if my aspirations for affordable access to education, a decent paying job and health care for average folk needs to take a back seat, again.

I mean, it could be worse. After all, any Democrat is better than the Republican alternative, right. As tepid as that may appear, that’s the way Republican pols see it too – ergo the nomination of Donald Trump.

But, we’ve never come closer to a progressive agenda than this election year. We had a champion who not only advanced ideas, but made them credible. Millions of people who have never participated in the political process got involved.

So now, I endorse Hillary Clinton for president. But what I also do is support the progressive agenda that Bernie Sanders so adeptly advanced and encourage young and old progressives to seek political office on the local and state level.

We don’t have to live with the “New Hampshire Tax Advantage.”

The university system does not have to stay alive by recruiting out-of-state students.

We don’t need to poison our environment in order to create jobs.

We can create an environment in Keene and New Hampshire that attracts young people and encourages them to start businesses here and to raise their families here.

There has never been a better opportunity for progressives to convince people that the “same old, same old” systems of taxation and job creation don’t work and new ideas need to be advanced.

We only get these chances every so often. Let’s not leave the bitter taste of “coulda, woulda, shoulda” in our children’s mouths.

I remember the first time I heard Bernie Sanders speak. He attended our county Democratic spaghetti dinner fundraiser, twice. Years before he decided to run for president.

He talked about economic unfairness and how the system was rigged to benefit the wealthiest and most powerful people in America.

He talked about raising the minimum wage to a livable wage.

About affordable and accessible healthcare for all.

About strengthening Social Security, not dismantling it.

He talked about sane environmental and energy policies.

He spoke to the needs of the people that I know.

He spoke to the needs of people you know.

He was saying those things in the 1980’s and they still ring true.

Apparently, these truths are self-evident.

 

Elizabeth Warren told Stephen Colbert that people are angry

and that they have good reasons to be angry.

Incomes are flat, expenses are up,

young people can’t get through college without being crushed by debt,

seniors can’t stretch social security checks to cover food and rent.

There are a lot of reasons to be angry.

But Donald Trump does not have the answers.

And frankly, I wonder about the presumptive Democratic nominee.

But that’s not why I’m here today. I’m here today to talk about keeping Bernie’s revolution alive and bringing it down to the state and local level.

You know me. I’ve tilted at a few windmills in my time.

You’ll recall we lost the fight against bringing a Bearcat into this town.

But we won assurances from the police that they wouldn’t use it indiscriminately.

We lost the first rounds to ban plastic bags, but kept it on the agenda and will bring it back again if business won’t do the right thing voluntarily.

We won the fight and took a stand on keeping the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to below 350 parts per million, and to be a sustainable community.

And, just this Thursday, we won the fight to tell the utility industry that they will NOT charge ratepayers a tariff for their dirty little pipelines.

But, the single biggest threat to people in Cheshire County New Hampshire is this state’s antiquated tax system.

The so-called New Hampshire Advantage.

Here we have a tax system that not only depends upon the property tax to fund most of state government, but actually protects the income of wealthy people in ways that guarantees that middle income people pay more than their fair share of those taxes.

How does it do that?

1) New Hampshire’s individual income tax system consists of a flat rate of 5%, which applies to interest and dividend income only. But, state law exempts all TRUSTS from interest and dividends tax.

This means a trust, including land trusts, can accumulate interest and dividend income free of any New Hampshire tax.

Not surprisingly, there is a cottage industry among New Hampshire lawyers to create trusts for wealthy clients.

The average taxpayer doesn’t have that option.

2) If you own 10 acres of land or more, you can put it under “current use”, meaning you receive a huge property tax discount. Once you’ve decided to sell or develop it, you merely pay a 10% tax based on the value of the property, a fraction of what you would’ve paid had it not been under current use. The average home owner doesn’t have that option and ends up subsidizing wealthy people’s obligations.

Using Census data, the leading tax advocacy organizations show that New Hampshire ranks third, behind only Connecticut and New Jersey, in property tax charges.

Since 2001, New Hampshire’s General Fund tax revenue, adjusted for inflation, has fallen 8 percent.  During that same time period, our population has grown 5 percent.  As a state, we are trying to do 5 percent more with 8 percent less tax revenue.

And, it’s not working very well.

State contributions to their obligations to Keene’s local government have fallen by more than $1 million per year since 2008.

And guess what, those downshifted costs are picked up by local property taxes.

And who pays more than their fair share of property taxes?

That’s right, the middle class takes it right in the neck.

Those aspirations to send your kids to college? Forget about it.

Tuition costs to the UNH system have never been higher. And that’s because the state’s contribution to the state university system has never been lower. In fact, their contribution is so low I don’t know how they pass the red face test by still calling it a state university system.

The New Hampshire Constitution states that government is instituted for the “general good.”  It also states that each of us is obligated to “contribute his share” to the cost of government.  But Concord is so focused on tax cuts that they’ve lost sight of the general good, and how we pay for it.

How much time could I take talking about the labor laws in this state?

Suffice it to say that it is not right for workers who work what in reality is a full time job, to not be offered full-time benefits and overtime. Splitting up shifts to avoid paying full time wages and benefits is wrong and should be illegal.

If it isn’t bad enough, the Chamber of Commerce sponsored a labor seminar for employers at the Hannah Grimes Center last week to talk about the effects of the new Federal overtime rules that take effect January 1st. I attended as sort of a fox in the henhouse.

What the attendees came away with were ways to reclassify employees so they can avoid paying the overtime the new law was designed to mandate.

Bernie sure was right when he said this system is rigged.

No one, including me, loves paying taxes. But if we must pay taxes then everyone should be treated equally and not given special treatment under the law.

People should be able to afford the price of a state university education.

People deserve the right to universal healthcare.

No person who works for a living should live in poverty.

These deceptive and unfair practices must end.

And the revolution that Bernie started is the KEY to ending them.

Don’t become discouraged.

Become engaged.

Keep the pressure up.

Tell your legislators, your select board, your governor and members of Congress at every opportunity that they are going to be held accountable for these things.

And most importantly, vote.

Drag your friends and family to vote.

Vote in every election.

I want to thank you for asking me to speak to you today.

And, I want to thank Bernie Sanders for giving us the courage to stand up for our own best interest.

Don’t let him down!

Peace!