The budget

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 29, 2005

Like most who oppose the City Manager’s budget, spending plans, I stayed away from the council chambers for fear of being run over by the &uot;stacked deck&uot; I knew would be paraded before the cameras mouthing platitudes of support. There were tributes to our sad system of schools, applause for what appears to be downtown enhancements, and praise for the Comprehensive Plan. One noteworthy citizen gave the same speech he always makes whenever he gets the opportunity to stand in support of council and school efforts to attain a fine city status. Everyone who used their five minutes to sanctify the budget was either connected to the schools, stood to gain from city spending, or has ample funds to withstand the rigors of higher and higher assessments.

No one spoke for a careful citizen inspection of unrevealed budget items, like salaries and unnecessary employee positions…none spoke about how much could be saved by the use of professionals to investigate the inefficiency of local government and a school system that continues to pump out unsatisfactory results. Very few in this city are sophisticated enough to even realize we are in financial trouble on both accounts. No one appears able to pinpoint a large part of our financial difficulties brought about by the developers who expect in-place citizens to pay for the services of people who have yet to move here.

No one spoke about unloading 25 acres of city owned property on Main Street, or selling other expensive city owned properties. No one complained of the millions spent on a cultural center whose occupiers are far from solidified, that now is directed by a very expensive employee, a project that hasn’t a prayer of paying for itself and will require continual subsidies from the pockets of the taxpayers. I chuckled when I read about a public celebration and dedication of a marina back of the hotel, 17 miles from the bay. With balloons and so called music yet…another chance for the mayor to cut a ribbon. Will there be another &uot;festival&uot; when they dedicate the missing amphitheatre that was so glowingly described in early propaganda?

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Only Mr. Herron, a

&uot;pro-downtowner&uot; had a kind word for the elderly on relatively fixed incomes who are forced to give up savings or lose their homes. Most everyone else spoke blindly about continuing to forge ahead, damn the torpedoes, get out of the way of progress for those few blocks in old downtown, the fringes can catch up later. They spoke, again, about more money for teachers, both the good and the bad, instead of about throwing out a tenure system that fails to punish the bad or reward the good. Just continue the same old same old. When will the public wake up?

There is hope; Council cautiously suggested there might be room for a rate cut and &uot;directed&uot; the city manager to pretend he could eliminate some spending. If the finance director is correct, and she always is, a penny cut costs the city half a million. I know a way to shave a bunch off the rate off the rate…just cut city salaries the amount they will take away from me via just that last assessment increase…and additional $875.

On a positive note there was my visit with the commonwealth treasurer who has been meeting with varied groups around the city, explaining the dramatic changes in the law governing tax relief for the elderly. Of course the magic number is still &uot;65&uot; and as hard- pressed as one might be to keep up with property taxes, sorry, no help, age counts. I guess I would not expect the same, &uot;get out the news&uot; from the city or the assessor and I am grateful the treasurer is willing to go out and about. I found these figures interesting…about t10 percent of the population is over age 64 and only about two percent of them might qualify under the relief rules. That still leaves a ton of people hurting, thanks to council’s fear of cutting the tax rate. Remember that when trying to qualify, the info you provide is based upon your assets, resources, as of December 31, 2004. Income must be under $42,500 and assets $200,000.

Another positive note was a delightful visit to Art’s Kitchen to do another rendition of Andy Damani’s Roundtable Talk. Owner Chris Alexander has completed a clever restoration of very old buildings on West Washington. Joyful ambiences with a wall of local art, including one of mine, that will cause you to wander about after you order your meal. The food is great, ample portions but not overdone, friendly atmosphere, real waitresses, not &uot;servers&uot;, good cooks, and a kind of old timey pleasant feeling.

And just down the street a block is Coastal Art where mermaids play. I will admit, when those colorful mermaids popped up on city streets east of us, their Mr. Peanut, I thought they were silly. Chris Alexander invented them and she has turned mermaids into far more than a cottage industry. A dozen local artists wield tools and paint brushes to create literally thousands of mermaids in every conceivable color and size…wild beauties, giants ten feet long &uot;swim&uot; in the front window. It reminded me of a place in Spain where local artists, each a specialist, create Spanish guitars. Special lumber comes in the back door, and tuned guitars go out the front to be shipped all over the world. Chris Alexander’s gifted strategy has rewarded her with markets for mermaids internationally and she admits she can’t keep up. One gentleman who keeps a band saw blade humming surprised me, he still has all eight fingers and two intact thumbs. Both Art’s Kitchen and Coastal Art are well worth the trip down to Herbert’s village.

There is still space for one more restaurant, folks…first floor of the Professional Building is beckoning…good spot for one of those with tablecloths, crystal and three forks left of the plate. But I’m thinking it would be a gamble to open another of any kind unless the school administrators on the floors above it hang around for supper. Probably they can afford it.

Robert Pocklington lives in Suffolk and is a regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at