The Seabrook Budget Message for FY 2017

Below is my budget message to the Seabrook Board of Selectmen for FY 2017, which begins on January 1, with Town Meeting in March of 2017.

Budget Message FY2017

I am pleased to present the annual budget to the Board of Selectmen for FY 2017.
As the Board considers this Budget it is important to note that health care pricing for the next cycle is not yet available, and will need to be incorporated into our budgetary numbers when the Health Trust provides us with that figure. Another note is that the numbers for our obligation to the New Hampshire Retirement system have spiked dramatically. Our recent discussion with our independent auditors highlighted the “unfunded liability” of the N.H. retirement system, with a $10 million charge to our balance sheet that recognized our portion of that liability. It is likely that the local assessments will continue to rise in order to correct the problem, which is not good news for our taxpayers.
The budget submitted continues to reflect the policy direction set by the Board of Selectmen. The rate of increase for the overall budget is 1.36% over last years budget. It should be noted that even that small increase, when further analyzed, shows that discretionary increases not mandated contractually account for about one half of one percent of the total increase. Contractual and mandated increases, such as the one highlighted above for retirement benefits, account for just under 1% of the total. The number submitted to the Board is exceedingly lean, and during the course of your review I know that you will hear, from our Department heads, legitimate requests for increases to address needs that are important as we provide vital services to our community. In many cases I not only understand, but agree that such increases would be helpful in providing first rate services. My recommendations are not dismissive of these ideas, but a recognition that keeping the overall tax burden stable is vital, and that we face a major unknown as to the ultimate results of the tax negotiation with our largest taxpayer, NextEra Energy.
The NextEra negotiation, still ongoing, is obviously critical. The 2015 tax payment constituted approximately 72% of the Town side expenditure, and while the ultimate outcome of the negotiation is yet to be determined we must brace ourselves for the potential of a smaller payment. Until such time as we know the outcome of that negotiation it will be difficult for me as Town Manager to recommend to the Board the undertaking of new budgetary spending, even where some justification may be evident. 

Our last independent audit showed our unexpended fund balance as over $9 million, a growth from last years number of about $8 million. We funded a major capital project out of that fund last year, and I realize that many feel that the number may be too high. But the direction given has been to create a fund balance sufficient to buffer the community against the potential downsides of a new agreement with NextEra, and this fund balance is designed to give our community that budgetary flexibility. It would be fair to say that we will be in a better position to fully understand our ability to take on additional capital spending, or address additional Departmental needs, in the FY 2018 budget year.
In this budget there has been a reconfiguration, in a minor way, of how some personnel are deployed within DPW. While there is no request made by me for additional full time personnel I have recommended some additional part time personnel within those budgets. Additionally I have not listed the requested swing set for Harborside Park within the submitted budget, but would recommend a $6,000 appropriation for that equipment, within the Parks Department Budget, should the Board wish to include it.
I would like to take the time to highlight the findings of the independent audit, which gave Seabrook strong marks for implementing management reforms, and for fiscal management. The Board of Selectmen have set strong priorities and policies for management to follow, and those policies are paying dividends from a management perspective, which translates into a much stronger fiscal position for our Town.
We have prepared the draft CIP, which will be submitted to you this week. A preliminary draft warrant, and prospective articles, have been prepared for you to examine as you review the municipal budget. I will also give you a review of requested, and dollar amounts, approved by voters for articles in this past three years. We will be able to provide capital spending by Department, which may be helpful in considering this years requests.
We have managed to submit a budget a bit earlier than we did last year, and we look forward to the Board’s review, comments and prospective changes. I would like to thank my staff for all of the hard work that has gone into preparation of the municipal budget. Our Finance Manager Carrie Fowler has done an outstanding job, not only in preparation of this budget, but in producing the audit results cited earlier. The Deputy Town Manager Kelly O’Connor has worked diligently on our budget, and has prepared the warrant articles for your consideration. My thanks to Procurement Manager Shaylia Marquis, who has worked to prepare our CIP. All of our Department Heads have worked very hard to make this budget process a smooth one, even when they hoped for different results. Seabrook is blessed with top quality professionals serving our citizens.

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Welcome to Seabrook Merrimack Valley Federal Credit Union

It was a beautiful day yesterday for the Grand Opening of the Merrimack Valley Federal Credit Union’s newest branch in Seabrook. Our thanks to Peter Matthews and his team for the investment in Seabrook, which has brought a new and modern branch, and a regional banking presence to Seabrook. The Seabrook Board of Selectmen were on hand for the opening. Check out this new branch.



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The New Electoral Map Mid September Edition

With the Presidential race taking some twists and turns since Labor Day I thought it was time to put up a new map, and take a look at the race after Hillary Clinton had arguably her worst stretch since the Conventions. Without question the race has tightened, in national polling, but more importantly in key swing state polling, where some important changes have occurred. I am going to review changes to my last map, and see where that leaves us.

In both of my previous postings I have highlighted, for Donald Trump, the absolute necessity of winning Florida. That is still the case. I just cannot see the path to 270 for him without it. But his difficulty in getting to 270 is shown by this map, where even wins in Florida and Ohio do not bring him victory. Let us look at the changes from my last map, all of which favor Trump.

I have moved a group of states I had previously designated as “toss-up” into the Trump column, including Utah, Georgia, Iowa and most importantly Ohio. I am not entirely convinced on Ohio, but the trend lines, for two weeks, have favored Trump. (Reading numbers should not be impacted by partisan desires, which many forget) I have also assigned the 1 electoral vote in Maine Congressional 2 to Trump, although I believe that the state will remain solidly blue.

With the race tightening it still remains, in my opinion, Clinton’s race to lose. But with that tightening comes some focus on the swing states that now become very important for her. As I look at this map the focus, for me, comes onto New Hampshire, Colorado and Nevada. Those states need to be maintained as Democratic, or the map could skewer in a negative way for Democrats.

I have left North Carolina as undecided, and a loss there would likely finish Trump. Trump really needs to run the table in order to win this thing. The debates loom as potentially more important than ever in a Presidential race. Even with a tough couple of weeks I still have Clinton over 270, with a narrow road to victory for Trump.

I am waiting for the electoral map from Ted Panos over at WCAP, who seems very reluctant to take up the challenge, and show me the error of my ways. Come on in Teddy. Give me the map.

Click the map to create your own at
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Review of the “When the Tea Party Came to Town” by Robert Draper

When the Tea Party Came to Town: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives' Most Combative, Dysfunctional, and Infuriating Term in Modern HistoryWhen the Tea Party Came to Town: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives’ Most Combative, Dysfunctional, and Infuriating Term in Modern History by Robert Draper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I caught a good sale at Amazon, so I picked this one up as a Kindle download. Sort of goes without saying that the book would not be for those not interested in how Congress works. For all others it is a good read, shedding light on some of the changes that came to pass with the arrival of the GOP Tea Party class of 2010, 87 strong. The book, in my opinion, comes off as non-judgemental, giving us a view from the perspective of so many newcomers to any government service.

The GOP freshmen class did not take long to start having an impact, bringing to Washington a deep disdain of government, an avowed desire to deeply slash spending, and an unshakeable belief that major changes they desired could occur while they only controlled the House. That belief eventually brought them into conflict with their own Speaker, John Boehner, who was really stuck between a rock and a hard place, dealing with his unruly caucus on one hand, and the Senate and Harry Reid on the other, with President Obama in the White House holding a large veto pen. The freshmen class and their fundamental lack of understanding of how Congress works brought much tension, and gridlock, to that institution. This book looks at that Congress through the eyes of some of those freshmen. I thought the author was exceedingly kind to Alan West, and obviously had great access to some of the most important members of that class, including West.

If you are trying to understand the roots of modern Congressional gridlock, and the fundamental reason John Boehner was eventually exiled by his own caucus, this book will help. It would be fair to say that American government, for fundamental operations, has always managed to compromise where political division existed. That does not mean that the politicians of yesterday were afraid to score political points, but that to some degree the adults in the room managed to keep government operating while debating fundamental political differences. This new group of freshmen felt that such “compromise” was a bad thing, and had brought negative results to the country. They were determined to bring more fundamental change, and had sold that idea to the voters back home who sent them to Washington. Governing would be secondary to ideological change. GOP Senator John Ensign summed it up:

“We got obsessed with governing,” Ensign said—adding with distaste, “making sure the trains run on time. Well, what if the train is heading towards the cliff?”

Although Ensign was not a member of this Congressional class his quote, in my view, summed up the philosophy accurately.

I am a Democrat, and I have had my share of partisan disgust at the gridlock and nonsense that substitutes for actual governing in Congress. I have looked at the actions of Congress and said to myself how could these people do (insert latest outrage). The reality is that we have created, ourselves, the system that we so decry. These GOP freshmen were not outliers, but rather accurately reflected the wishes of their constituents. Congressional gerrymandering, designed to protect incumbents and create ideologically homogeneous Congressional Districts, has worked on both fronts. Adding the gasoline of talk radio and new media (with a financial stake in political combat) to that mix and governing became an afterthought. The GOP leadership was slow to catch on, but with earmarks gone and the folks back home clamoring to defeat the socialists they were soon dissuaded of the notion that traditional compromise might be possible.

“Boehner, Cantor, and McCarthy had endeavored to find an upside to Congress’s deepening unpopularity. Perhaps, they hoped, the freshmen would get an earful back home and return to Washington in September with a newfound eagerness to compromise. But it wasn’t quite shaping up that way. The district maps that had been redrawn this year by predominantly GOP-controlled state legislatures as a result of the 2010 census meant that many Republicans now represented much more conservative territory—or, in some cases, much more Democratic, forcing them to migrate to a new district and run against a fellow Republican and in the process compelling them to prove their superior conservative bona fides. Right-wing advocates such as Heritage Action and Erick Erickson of continued to rate members on their votes and agitated for primary challenges against less conservative members like freshman Martha Roby and the Missouri moderate Jo Ann Emerson. (“Wow, what did you do to piss off Erick Erickson?” Texas freshman Bill Flores asked Emerson one afternoon on the House floor. She had never heard of the conservative blogger whose October 21 post began with the headline, ‘Paging the Missouri Tea Party: Here’s One to Primary.’)”

More fearful of a challenge from the right, (and a potential primary)the willingness of this new group to compromise to move government forward (or even to keep it open)was essentially lost, and likely never existed to start. Many of the newcomers were “true believers.”

Robert Draper has done a good job of following and reporting on this Congress, and showing us the mindset of the Tea Party folks who came to Washington looking to remake the federal government in a very radical way. They had impact, but never to the extent that they hoped. For that they blame Harry Reid and Barack Obama. But the real culprits were the founding fathers, who designed our system to make overnight change exceedingly difficult.

From Madison, in Federalist 51:

“A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions. This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the State. But it is not possible to give to each department an equal power of self-defense. In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit. It may even be necessary to guard against dangerous encroachments by still further precautions. As the weight of the legislative authority requires that it should be thus divided, the weakness of the executive may require, on the other hand, that it should be fortified.”

A solid book by Draper that is well worth a look.

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Review of Give Em Hell by Terry Golway

Give 'em Hell: The Tumultuous Years of Harry Truman's Presidency, in His Own Words and Voice [With CD (Audio)]Give ’em Hell: The Tumultuous Years of Harry Truman’s Presidency, in His Own Words and Voice [With CD (Audio)] by Terry Golway
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Got the book as a gift, and it was a very pleasant summer read. I have not read McCullough, but this effort will likely lead me to take that book up. The book includes an audio cd, which contains some of the memorable Truman speeches, and the book builds the chapters and narrative around those speeches. The audio quality is pretty good, and the chapters deal with some of the monumental events in U.S. history. Starting with Truman’s ascent to the Presidency after the death of Franklin Roosevelt, the chapters bring us announcements of the surrender of Germany and Japan, the bringing forth of the Marshall Plan for the rebuilding of a war shattered Europe, the Truman campaign for a full term in 1948, and the long odds he faced as he started that campaign, the Korean War, and the controversial firing of General Douglas MacArthur. Truman and his administration were faced with “winning the peace” and showing the necessary resolve against the “probing” of Josef Stalin, our erstwhile WWII ally. This book gives you a better than Readers Digest version of Harry Truman, and does not aspire to be a biography, but rather a snapshot of some fascinating and important events in U.S. history. Truman left with a pretty low approval rating, but correctly predicted that history would bring him the positive recognition he deserved.

Some pretty good speeches by the “plain speaking” President are included. Track 24 got my attention, where the President warns of the excesses of the anti-communist movement, speaking against sacrificing our constitutional protections in order to defeat communism. Clearly an anti Joe McCarthy speech, but the Senator was never mentioned. Truman’s words ring true, and may have some real importance today.

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Seabrook Fire Department Recognition

The Seabrook Board of Selectmen, at their July meeting, recognized the Seabrook Fire Department for their outstanding work dealing with a major fire at Seabrook Beach. This fire required response from many surrounding communities, and for that mutual aid we are very grateful. Terrific help and cooperation from the Seabrook Police Department, who were on site rendering invaluable service.


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Review of “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance

Below is the review of the book Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, which is quite a read, and a topic (white working class) that is the subject of much writing and discussion in light of the heavy support given by that group to Donald Trump. I have included links to an interview done by Vance with the American Conservative, as well as a scathing attack on the white working class by Kevin Williamson over at National Review, and an Atlantic story that is quite good, which takes a look at the book, as well as some other writings on the subject.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I highly recommend this book, but it is, for me, a most difficult book to write about. In light of the Trump movement many have said the book should be read to “understand” the mindset of Trump voters, and the author has been a frequent guest on some of the political shows. The book, without question, sheds some light in this area, but it, for me, was not a political book.

JD Vance is a “hillbilly” and the book takes us into what Vance defines as “hillbilly” culture, both strength and weakness. Maybe the book can be difficult to define because the author does not try to take one position and fit it into an overriding narrative, but shows us both good and bad in the culture he grew up in. I loved the family stories, which are both personal and instructive in a larger sense. His grandmother has an outsized role in the book, and in his life. Safe to say that without her J.D. Vance would not have had the life success he has enjoyed, and her role in the book is so very enjoyable, and instructive.

As mentioned Vance is willing to highlight deficiencies as well as strengths in the culture, and where he does deal with politics he takes a fair look at both sides of the cultural divide. Why did the white working class turn away from the Democratic Party?

“Political scientists have spent millions of words trying to explain how Appalachia and the South went from staunchly Democratic to staunchly Republican in less than a generation. Some blame race relations and the Democratic Party’s embrace of the civil rights movement. Others cite religious faith and the hold that social conservatism has on evangelicals in that region. A big part of the explanation lies in the fact that many in the white working class saw precisely what I did, working at Dillman’s. As far back as the 1970s, the white working class began to turn to Richard Nixon because of a perception that, as one man put it, government was “payin’ people who are on welfare today doin’ nothin’! They’re laughin’ at our society! And we’re all hardworkin’ people and we’re gettin’ laughed at for workin’ every day!”

“Mamaw listened intently to my experiences at Dillman’s. We began to view much of our fellow working class with mistrust. Most of us were struggling to get by, but we made do, worked hard, and hoped for a better life. But a large minority was content to live off the dole. Every two weeks, I’d get a small paycheck and notice the line where federal and state income taxes were deducted from my wages. At least as often, our drug-addict neighbor would buy T-bone steaks, which I was too poor to buy for myself but was forced by Uncle Sam to buy for someone else. This was my mind-set when I was seventeen, and though I’m far less angry today than I was then, it was my first indication that the policies of Mamaw’s “party of the working man”—the Democrats—weren’t all they were cracked up to be.”

Vance is critical of the section of the culture that he says is “content” to live off the dole, highlighting instances where individuals lost jobs due to misconduct and flat out poor performance, but simply believed that they had been “wronged” by the employer. His willingness to examine things as he sees them, rather than trying to fit facts into a pre-defined political narrative, is refreshing.

“We choose not to work when we should be looking for jobs. Sometimes we’ll get a job, but it won’t last. We’ll get fired for tardiness, or for stealing merchandise and selling it on eBay, or for having a customer complain about the smell of alcohol on our breath, or for taking five thirty-minute restroom breaks per shift. We talk about the value of hard work but tell ourselves that the reason we’re not working is some perceived unfairness: Obama shut down the coal mines, or all the jobs went to the Chinese. These are the lies we tell ourselves to solve the cognitive dissonance—the broken connection between the world we see and the values we preach.”

What is also refreshing is the author, a conservative, looking at some of the belief sets that drive the politics of white working class folks. The hatred for President Obama?

“The symptoms are all around us. Significant percentages of white conservative voters—about one-third—believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim. In one poll, 32 percent of conservatives said that they believed Obama was foreign-born and another 19 percent said they were unsure—which means that a majority of white conservatives aren’t certain that Obama is even an American. I regularly hear from acquaintances or distant family members that Obama has ties to Islamic extremists, or is a traitor, or was born in some far-flung corner of the world. Many of my new friends blame racism for this perception of the president. But the president feels like an alien to many Middletonians for reasons that have nothing to do with skin color. Recall that not a single one of my high school classmates attended an Ivy League school. Barack Obama attended two of them and excelled at both. He is brilliant, wealthy, and speaks like a constitutional law professor—which, of course, he is. Nothing about him bears any resemblance to the people I admired growing up: His accent—clean, perfect, neutral—is foreign; his credentials are so impressive that they’re frightening; he made his life in Chicago, a dense metropolis; and he conducts himself with a confidence that comes from knowing that the modern American meritocracy was built for him. Of course, Obama overcame adversity in his own right—adversity familiar to many of us—but that was long before any of us knew him. President Obama came on the scene right as so many people in my community began to believe that the modern American meritocracy was not built for them. We know we’re not doing well. We see it every day: in the obituaries for teenage kids that conspicuously omit the cause of death (reading between the lines: overdose), in the deadbeats we watch our daughters waste their time with. Barack Obama strikes at the heart of our deepest insecurities. He is a good father while many of us aren’t. He wears suits to his job while we wear overalls, if we’re lucky enough to have a job at all. His wife tells us that we shouldn’t be feeding our children certain foods, and we hate her for it—not because we think she’s wrong but because we know she’s right.”

There are some other new books out there that look at the class divide, and the white working class role in our society, but none will likely bring the first hand knowledge and insights that J.D. Vance brings to the subject. You may end up with something that you did not expect, but it is a valuable book written by someone who has made a great success, but just as easily might have been stuck into the cycle of poverty he managed to escape.

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The American Conservative interviews J.D. Vance

The Atlantic looks at the white working class, including a section on the J.D. Vance book.

The Kevin Williamson attack on Trump voters, and the white working class, published in National Review.

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