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.