, Gloucester, MA

March 15, 2013

Letter: Mayor's leadership lacking on tax issues

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

Since budget season is upon us, it is time for the mayor to start addressing the key concern of the taxpayer, which is disposable income being depleted by higher taxes.

It seems surreal when the mayor writes from her perspective how different Gloucester is from the federal government (”The Mayor’s Desk” column, the Times, Saturday, March 9). Many of the issues she mentioned are mandated or contractual rather than detailing a plan to reduce taxes.

When comparing the two governments, the similarities are endless. But their main bond is the continual disregard for the taxpayer and some idea that “we” are to pay for every new idea or expansion of government. Her administration may be sincere, but at least five areas are misguided: taxes for the Community Preservation Act, the I-4, C-2 site, the operating budget, unfunded liabilities, and schools.

The problem sitting on the other side of the mayor’s desk (as well as the federal government’s) is that “we” the taxpayer are overburdened by an agenda that is unaffordable and holds questionable value for the greater and common good.

The CPA, which the mayor had opposed and then supported, was voted down two times by the “citizens of Gloucester.” It passed on a third try, and was supposed to cost each property owner 1 percent per year. The vote was based on information that “we” would receive 100 percent on the dollar from the state. We do not. We are only getting about 28 cents on the dollar.

In addition, the CPA commission, which is unelected, has borrowed $2 million from the general fund against future CPA revenue. How many votes would have changed if we knew this was part of the plan and how many more ideas does CPA have that they can’t afford, and the administration must fund from general fund debt?

This is not living within our means, this is unelected people over-reaching what we agreed to fund. If the CPA is repealed locally or by the state, how much will we the taxpayer still be responsible for above the 1 percent/per year that was voted for? So far it’s $2 million, but that current decision (not voted on as part of the CPA) implies unlimited CPA debt.

I-4, C-2 is an example of bad leadership and stepping outside of the responsibilities of governing. This property should have been re-zoned to increase its value to entice private investors prior to the city thinking of purchasing the property. Had it been, we would not own it, we would not be paying debt service on it, (as well as not receiving taxes), and now begging to make it into ... a parking lot? The city has demonstrated many times it can’t be a landlord or involved in the real estate business.

With respect to the budget, Mayor Kirk wrote, “We raise revenues. We know that expenses have been rising faster than revenues, and in addition to cutting expenses to bridge the gap, we also raise taxes as allowed under Proposition 2½.”

The problem with this is that Prop 2½ is a cap, not an entitlement. The mayor has never tried to lower property taxes or any taxes for that matter. Some property taxes are up more than 25 percent over the last four years. Taxpayer incomes are down at least 4.8 percent.

Instead of doing the same old thing, why doesn’t the mayor cut spending by 5 percent over the next three years? Start by freezing property taxes with the intent to lower them 5 percent over the next three years, it’s prime time for an “under-ride”! Also, cut the meals and hotel sales tax in half to promote traffic for local business. To compensate, cut the size of government through regionalization, reforms and restructuring.

With respect to unfunded liabilities, Mayor Kirk says nothing. That is just the beginning of the problem. According to the Boston Business Journal, Gloucester has over $300 million of unfunded liabilities. This reminds me of the Enron debacle. Enron was an A rated company (by S&P and Moody’s) that had off balance sheet liabilities that kept their stock price going up and the rating agencies in their corner. The liabilities were not shown in their balance sheet but wound up ultimately causing the demise of the company. Gloucester is doing the same thing.

One area where expenses can be cut is the schools. With approximately 30,000 people living in Gloucester, why the school budget is 60 percent of the total budget and being spent on 3,000 students is unfair. It is especially outrageous since school enrollment is down 25 percent and the district still ranks in the bottom 20 percent of the state. We are paying $14,000 per student.

This has to change and cuts have to be made. It is also time to achieve regionalization among neighboring school districts.

In summary, the taxpayer is tapped out. We do not exist to support never ending government ventures on the federal, state or local level. If the mayor and City Council don’t understand this, there needs to be new personnel with professional expertise, sound fiscal judgement and no agenda except the safety of the citizens and complete fiduciary accountability to the taxpayer.

It seems the time may be now for a city manager.