After a sparsely attended deliberative session Saturday, two petition warrant articles will go onto the Keene School District’s ballot with significant amendments.
A range of other proposals, including a collective bargaining agreement for principals and supervisors and appropriations for building maintenance and special education reserve funds, will appear on the ballot as proposed.
Though 77 registered voters attended the session — about 0.4 percent of the district’s 17,855 registered voters — a few vocal individuals seemed to dominate discussion Saturday morning.
Early in the meeting, two amendments to the district’s $66,661,091 operating budget were proposed, but ultimately voted down. The proposed budget is up 0.6 percent from the $66,150,293 budget voters approved last year.
The first amendment, proposed by Keene resident and former Keene High football coach John Luopa, would have added $311,425 to the operating budget, with the funds intended for step increases for teachers.
The Keene Board of Education and the teachers union failed to reach a new contract agreement this year, and in the absence of a new agreement, the previous teachers contract reached four years ago will remain in effect beyond its set expiration, on June 30.
A few board members, including Kris Roberts, George Downing and Susan Hay, opposed the amendment, noting that any potential step increase should ideally be reached through a collective bargaining process.
Downing also clarified that though voters have the power to add funds to the proposed budget at the deliberative session, they don’t have the power to restrict what those funds would be used for.
On a secret ballot vote, the amendment failed, 40-18.
A second amendment to the operating budget was proposed by Conan Salada, a Keene resident and former candidate for state representative and Keene City Council, to decrease the operating budget by $410,796, to match the previous operating budget. Salada argued that the district’s spending per student is too high.
“It shouldn’t cost that much to educate our youth for what is basically daycare. The amount of money being spent, a quarter million dollars for the life of a kid, we should be turning out engineers, rocket scientists, doctors,” Salada said. “And yet half of these kids probably couldn’t pass an entrance exam in the local college.”
Salada’s amendment also failed, with a vote of 54-14, and the proposed operating budget was moved to the district’s ballot as written.
The first session (deliberative session) will be taking place at 9AM this Saturday, 2/10/18, at the Keene high school auditorium. 7 school warrant articles as well as 3 petition articles will be discussed, debated, and possibly amended. The school board’s proposed operating budget for 2018/19 is an increase of $410,796 from last year.
Although voting at the polls in March is important, this first meeting is where the ballot you’ll be voting on is initially decided upon. This is where the teachers and school administrators basically stack the ballot in their favor every single year. And is why many have come to consider voting in March to be absolutely pointless. This is your opportunity to make a difference by helping reduce a bloated, unsustainable operating budget that makes up more than 52% of municipal spending. It shouldn’t cost our community over $19,000 per student per year to provide a decent education, but that’s what it has come to. That’s where not attending these meeting has led us to.
Bring a book if you must. Bring your tablet and watch Netflix. Wi-Fi is available. Bring your knitting. But just come. When it comes to controlling governmental spending in this region, this is by far the most important day of the year.
Proposed articles posted below:
Here are my proposed warrant articles for the upcoming 2018 school election.
I need 25 signatures from registered voters for each article to appear at the 2018 Deliberative session in February and then later on the ballot in March where the entire community will vote on them. If you are interested in signing or need more information please contact me at ConanSalada@gmail.com. I’ll come to you at your convenience.
- Shall we rescind the provisions of RSA 40:13 (known as SB 2), as adopted by the Keene School District in 1996, so that the official ballot will no longer be used for voting on all questions, but only for the election of officers and certain other questions for which the official ballot is required by state law? (3/5’s majority required to pass.)
- Shall the District adopt the provisions of RSA 32:5-b, and implement a tax cap whereby the governing body (or budget committee) shall not submit a recommended budget that increases the amount to be raised by local taxes, based on the prior fiscal year’s actual amount of local taxes raised, by more than 1%. (3/5’s majority required to pass.)
- Shall the District reduce the total average operating expense per enrolled student by $500 every year until the district’s average operating expense per student matches the NH state average. This reduction will take effect on the 2019/20 school budget. (As of 2015/16, the state average operating expense per student was $14,901. Keene’s average was $15,958.)
Name: Conan W. Salada
How long have you lived in Keene: 5 years
Family: Proud father
Education: 4 years of college
Occupation: Online Reseller
Organizations to which you belong/have belonged: Keene Liberty Alliance
Public/government service: US Army
Why are you running to be a city councilor?
“I’m running to offer the voters of Keene a much needed alternative to the current tax-and-spend model that is over running our city. Keene has a serious spending problem; not a revenue problem like so many of our city officials would have us believe. Their solution to the increasing tax rate is to expand the tax base through more economic growth. In fact that’s all they’ve talked about this past year. But new rezoning initiatives and crony business incentives will not attract enough growth to keep pace with the city’s yearly budget increases. In order to achieve a truly sustainable community, one where future generations are not compromised by way of higher taxes and cost of living, burdensome regulations and city debt, we must begin exploring other options.
Please visit my website: ConanSalada.com where I have listed a number of common sense solutions focused on reducing city spending.”
Should the city government take stands on issues that extend far beyond the Elm City, such as climate change, immigration and race relations? Why or why not?
“While many of the recent city resolutions discussed this year were well intended, I believe they were all out of place based of their partisan ulterior motivations. The role of the city council is to represent the people as a whole and not take sides based on political ideology.
Dear Keene city council, please keep your personal political biases on your Facebook page and concentrate more of your time on real city issues like reducing the growing tax rate and filling those potholes.”
Where should homeless shelters and drug/alcohol rehabilitation facilities be located in the city? How should the city achieve that?
“Ideally these types of facilities should be located as far away from the city center as possible but not so far that the occupants are unable to take advantage of important city amenities which might help in their rehabilitation. But, that is just my personal opinion which really doesn’t matter in this case. This isn’t a project for city government to “achieve.” This type of project is best left in the hands of private individuals and charities which will do a far better job than the public sector. I applaud the initiative of the new Prospect House owners. I wish them all the best and hope their new endeavor will become a model for future organizations to emulate.”
Does the city government’s planning/development/zoning oversight need to be changed, and if so, how?
“Yes. Although, the city has spent much of this past year enacting new development initiatives and over overhauling city zoning in an attempt to promote more economic growth, I feel these changes will not be significant enough to encourage the developmental response that is expected. The problem still remains. There is still too much oversight, too many regulations, and far too many city planners bent on restricting any development that doesn’t conform with their master plan. The city’s mission should be to make this process as easy and streamlined as possible. And until certain committees like the planning and zoning boards (both of which are comprised of non-elected members that have too much sway when it comes to city wide development) are either replaced with less controlling members or their advisory powers are restricted, I feel this is an issue that will continue to hold this community back.”
Questionnaires were given out to all City Council and Mayoral candidates. All submissions can be found here.
Does Keene have a spending problem or a revenue problem? Ask your average working man on the street and he’ll likely inform you the problem lies in spending. Ask one of our city officials and they’ll tell you it’s all about the revenue; but don’t you worry. They have a grand solution in the works: more economic growth. Increase the tax base and the overwhelming tax burden we face individually will be lessened. It’s hard to argue with that because the math says it’s true. But how much growth are we talking about? And is achieving that level of growth even possible?
Well, let’s look at the numbers. Over the last 12 years, the city’s total commitment (City, School, and county) has gone from $43.3 million in 2004 to $65 million in 2016. That’s an increase of $21.7 million. $1.8 million averaged per year. The population of Keene has only gone up by 650 in that same time. The student population has decreased. Businesses have come and gone. And citywide property assessment has plummeted.
But it gets better. The amount of assessed value that the city would have needed to add in 2016 to hold that year’s tax increase at zero, would have been around $51 million of additional tax base. That’s the equivalent of around 5 Home Depots. And let’s not forget those new businesses would need to be staffed. And those new employees would need places to live and additional city services that everyone has grown accustomed to receiving; this driving the spending up even more. The city would need to do this every year to keep the tax rate from increasing. Do you think this is possible? The tax-and-spend city planners, school board members, and county officials currently calling the shots think it is. Personally, I think they’re all delusional.
As far as I can tell, only one of our city councilors ever talks about the real solution to these yearly budget increases; cut spending and live within our means. Sadly his opinion is shunned by the rest of his peers who seem caught up in their own SimCity fantasy world oblivious of the long term consequences of their actions. “Never mind the cost,” they say, “we’ll just take out another bond. – Portsmouth has one, so should we. – It’s in the Master Plan, so we MUST do it.”
Well I say, no. The best way to promote more economic growth is to simply reduce the tax rate. This is what will attract the big employers to our region. This is what will keep the young in town and the retired in their homes. The key to long term community sustainability is achieved by living within our means, not by passing the burden down to future generations. To achieve this, we must cut the spending.
This city cannot tax its way to prosperity.
The Keene city master plan opens with a discussion on the importance of community sustainability. The original definition provided states that true community sustainability is “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Who could argue against such a wonderfully simple objective. If I could, I would have that message chiseled into the side of City Hall to act as a permanent reminder to all who do business within those walls.
Why? Because our elected leaders, city planners, and do-good visionaries need a serious wake-up call. In their attempt to achieve a great shining city on the hill, they have neglected the sustainability of future generations by way of higher taxes and cost of living, burdensome regulations, city debt and broken policies like public pensions and healthcare that will soon be completely unaffordable for us to maintain.
My lot in life has grown increasingly compromised by these issues and I know many in this community/State/Country who share in my predicament. Yes, we should all strive daily to leave our lot in life better off than when we received it but we must be careful that the cost of achieving that goal isn’t passed down unfairly to future generations to bear.
The Real Problem.
The single most pressing long term-issue we face as a community is the crushing tax burden. It affects us all. Homeowners, retirees, students, business owners small and large.
The current fix-it-all narrative from many of our city officials, is to encourage more economic development which they believe will alleviate the tax burden on us all. While it sounds good on paper, this plan will never achieve its intended goal. There is no possible way to attract enough growth to Keene to keep up with the yearly spending increases. By the city management’s own admission, we would need to bring in the equivalent of around Home Depots every year to balance Keene’s close to $2 million in yearly budget increases. Of course, you would need to staff those new businesses with a competent workforce as well. And they would need housing and city services. We would have to accomplish this EVERY year to keep tax increases at zero. Do you really think this is possible? No, Keene doesn’t have a revenue problem. It has a serious spending problem.
Here are some ways to get city spending under control:
- Pay down the debt. Stop taking out new bonds. The city currently owes $4.9 million per year in debt service. 8% of the $61.4 million budget.
- Lower city employees wages and benefits to match private sector workers.
- Stop expanding the downtown Tax Increment Finance district which indirectly funnels revenue from the general fund. Currently that amount is $1.5 million of potential tax revenue.
- Remove every department from city control that is not constitutionally mandated OR which can be provided more efficiently through the private sector:
2018 Budget Revenue Cost to taxpayers
Airport $622,000 $455,000 $167,000
Parking Enforcement $2.2 Mil $1.2 Mil $1 Mil
Rec Center $3.1 Mil $561,000 $2.5 Mil
Library $1.4 Mil $59,000 $1.3 Mil
Code Enforcement $1.1 Mil $307,000 $793,000
Youth Services $128,000 $23,000 $105,000
Leaf pickup $101,000
Public Employee Parking $34,000
- Reduce all remaining non-self sufficient department budgets by 5%.
- Sell off all unneeded/unused municipal buildings and properties. The city should not be in the real estate business.
- Amend the city charter to exclude the requirement for a mandatory Primary election. $10,000 to remove one candidate from the General election is ridiculous. Explain to me what’s is the problem with having 20 At-Large candidates on the General ballot?
- Fix the public employee pension and healthcare system. We can’t wait for Concord to fix this growing issue. It’s time for the city of Keene to start looking at alternative options.
- Begin to transition more responsibility of the maintenance and upkeep of the downtown district over to the Keene Chamber of Commerce. The city currently spends far too much time and resources trying to manage this area.
Vote for a sustainable future.
The time to tackle this growing issue is NOW. Not in 10 years; right after the first big employer decides to uproot their company and move to a more hospitable region. It’s time to stop kicking this can down the road for future generations to deal with. It’s time to elect someone who is ready to think outside of the box and make the hard decisions that our current representatives are unwilling to consider.
I hope you will consider me November 7th. Thank you.