Tax group remains
vigilant in Goffstown
Claims more than 400
members concerned about high taxes
By GREG KWASNIK
Union Leader Correspondent
- With health insurance premiums up and tax revenues down across the state, the 2010 budgetary process has been a time of belt tightening for many New Hampshire cities and towns.
But in Goffstown - where the Budget Committee recently cut more than $973,000 from next year’s proposed budget – one citizens' group is trying to cinch that belt a few notches tighter.
Since its founding in 2005, the Goffstown Residents Association has served as a voice for hundreds of the town’s fiscally conservative residents. During the current economic downturn, those residents have made the GRA an active presence by monitoring – and sometimes criticizing – nearly every penny proposed at the town’s public budgetary meetings.
“People call us a ‘watchdog’ organization, but I’m not sure that’s so much what we are,” said GRA Chairman Guy Caron. “The main mission is basically to maintain integrity and fiscal responsibility in Goffstown government.”
Caron, who also serves on the Goffstown Budget Committee, said the GRA has more than 400 active members in every level of the town’s government. But Caron declined to identify those members, many of whom often post anonymous editorials on the group’s web site.
“We very vigorously protect the identities of our members for a lot of reasons,” Caron said. “We have members that work for every department in Goffstown. We have policemen and firemen that are members. We have public works and school teachers that are members, but they are very much afraid of the repercussions.”
Those fears may be partly explained by Caron's Budget Committee vote last month to make 5.6 percent reductions to the proposed police, fire and Public Works budgets. The committee eventually agreed to lesser cuts after town department heads warned of unplowed sidewalks and other diminished services.
For Caron, the cuts would have helped reduce the town’s proposed $19.2 million budget, a number that has increased by $2.5 million in the last three years. To lower that total, Caron, the GRA and Budget Commitee looked to make cuts from other areas of the budget.
In December, Caron and other Budget Committee members asked the School Board to reduce its proposed budget, which Caron said accounts for two-thirds of the town’s tax bill. Without any reductions, Caron said the School Board's proposed budget would increase the town's tax rate by $3.27 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.
At a December 21 School Board meeting, several of the School Board’s members said the $691,000 in requested cuts were too drastic, and would threaten the town's quality of education.
Caron responded by saying that the School Board needs to readjust its priorities in the changed economic landscape.
“We’re not trying to tell the school how to educate their kids. We’re trying to tell them how to handle their money, and it’s actually not their money,” Caron said. “There’s a big difference between what you need to have and what you want to have, and they’re missing the message.”
Fellow Budget Committee member and GRA activist Bill Gordon agreed that the school's budget - and school staffing levels in particular - have outpaced the town's economic realities. Add in rising health insurance and retirement costs, and the town will struggle to keep up, Gordon said.
“Why should we be adding more and more and more staff to the schools? It doesn’t make any sense,” Gordon said. “If we’re looking at a typical employee making $50,000 a year, it’s costing us somewhere over $80,000 to have that employee on staff. It’s a staggering number that people just don’t grasp.”
Over the next few months, the GRA will continue to advocate for a reduced town budget, posting editorials on its web site and urging members to vote at the March 9 town meeting.
For Gordon, the goal of reducing the budget - and taxes - is only part of the ultimate aim of the GRA, which is to keep voters aware of what goes on in town government.
"It's keeping taxes down and keeping an eye on what’s going on," Gordon said. "When we see something that’s good we talk about it. When we see something that is unseemly or distasteful we talk about it.”