West Hartford Forums

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Archive for October, 2008

Watch West Hartford Debates on Your Computer

Posted by whforums on October 29, 2008

Wanted to throw a quick morning link over to WHCTV’s blog/vlog, where local debates are currently available for streaming.  Check out US House 1 (better know as Larson/Visconti/Fournier), CT senate 5 (Harris/Merritt), and CT Assembly 18 (Fleischman/Knox), 19 (Bye/McGrath) and 20 (McCluskey/Thompson/Mertens).  @WHCTV — I still would love to see Town Council and Board of Ed Meetings posted every week, but baby steps to get there, I know.  You folks rock.

Not sure if you’re in CT Assembly 18/19/20?  Use this map to find your street and district.  The map has some craptastic qualities (it’s too small to read as is, and when you zoom in, it’s too large to easily maneuver), but with some practice, you can find out which of these races will appear on your ballot.

Posted in 2008 Election, Local Democracy, Media, West Hartford, WHCTV | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

For Your Monday Morning Consideration

Posted by whforums on October 26, 2008

Walking through the Center this weekend, I was heartbroken to see Lane and Lenge was gone (I was on the other side of the street and saw an empty store front. I pondered — and then said to my wife “Isn’t that where Lane and Lenge was?”). We had our wedding flowers done by them (and, by the way, they rocked and I highly recommend them to any local couple in the “market”), so I walked over to the storefront to read the signs posted to the door. Turns out they’ve left the Center and moved to Park Road. While this sucks, it’s still much better than having lost them! So go to Park Road and buy your significant other (maybe your husband, because we like getting gifts, too) some flowers from Lane and Lenge and help offset their moving costs …

Connecticut Magazine has ranked the top 35 high schools in the state. Hall came in 13th (that’s 90th percentile) and Conard came in 22nd. Not too shabby out of 135 high schools, huh? While you’re over at Lane and Lenge, buy flowers for our teachers, too …

To the person who keeps landing on this site via the search term “Is 1690 a good SAT score?” The answer is, sure. It’s good. I mean, it’s not super-great, but it’s not by any stretch of the imagination a bad score. It will get you into a good college. But, really, most colleges are good. So, stop worrying about your score, and start worrying about how you’ll make the most of your time in college. Start by declaring a philosophy major.

To NeefBremo and SpooryDroopy, my two most prodigious spammers, who send me 20-30 posts a day about viagra, tramadol and direct-print coupons — enough. I love you both, but I’m going to have to put you in spam time-out if you don’t chill out a little bit …

Speaking of “being put in time-out” — no word from Visconti, Larson or Fournier per West Hartford Forums’ invitation to write guest posts before election day. Maybe I’ll write in old Noah …

Posted in 2008 Election, Local Democracy, Quick Hits, SAT Scores, Uncategorized, West Hartford, West Hartford Center, WHPS | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

Are Property Taxes a Feasible Basis for Town Revenue?

Posted by whforums on October 21, 2008

When taxes get out of hand, people get really pissed off.

This is one of the fundamental historical narratives of the United States, one of the most compelling arguments for limited government and a contemporary local theme in towns far beyond West Hartford’s bubble. And while the panicky language associated with current events (we had the “tax revolt” in California a while back, and the NYT referred to West Hartford as being on the verge of “tax revolt” – this only serves to highlight the degree to which revolution is misread beyond its borders) may only serve to point out how far we have to go before we get really angry, there’s no question that the sentiment that taxes outstrip services is real, especially in West Hartford. And you know what? It’s true that people who have lived in West Hartford for many, many years are being forced out by property taxes, and that’s something that, as residents, we can’t ethically abide. But we also can’t ethically abide cuts in crucial town services (police, fire, education) if those cuts create a real negative impact on the lives of any of our residents. And that leaves us with the ugly question which has too often framed our budget debate – how do we protect vulnerable homeowners without gutting the services that keep the quality of life in West Hartford so high?

The Problem is Property Taxes

So, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and a lot of time reading about this, and here’s the conclusion I reached – the problem is not the taxation itself but the mode of taxation.

Last month I was thinking about my retirement account, and wondering, as the market crashed and burned, where my money was going. And the answer hit me (I guess it’s obvious, but I’d never spent much time thinking about it before) – the money was never really “there” to begin with, it was only “potentially” there. If I had cashed out when the market was at 13,000, I could have had that money (with taxes!), but in lieu of cashing out, the gains I was making were really potential gains that existed for about as long as a Higgs boson in the CERN collider. The money was only there if I chose to realize its potential – otherwise it was just a number that had the potential to become a different number –an abstracted abstraction, despite the dollar sign on my quarterly statement.

It’s the same way with a house, but here’s the rub. Let’s imagine the situation of the many West Hartford residents who bought a house here in the 70’s for about $30,000. Although their homes have gained value, unless the home is sold, that value remains only potential profit, not actual profit (excepting home equity loans and reverse mortgages). But real property taxes (not potential taxes) increase as potential value increases, so a person who paid $30,000 for a home may very well be paying that much in taxes today over a five year period. In other words, these homeowners pay as much in taxes in five years as they have invested in the ownership of their home (at my current tax rate, it will take about 40 years for me to reach the cost value of my home in tax payments, assuming taxes don’t go up (ha!)). This creates situations where actual taxes meet potential values but may outstrip actual incomes, and leads me to the conclusion that it’s dangerous to base a town’s tax revenue on non-liquid assets, especially when those assets are of imaginary value (potential value if you’d prefer). It’s at the very least a system that discourages (or penalizes) long-time home ownership and long-time contribution to a community. And let’s face it – that’s pretty shameful (“you can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away,” etc.).

So, Alternatives?

So, let me throw two potential solutions at you, and you can tell me what you think.

1. Rather than a property tax (which taxes potential and unrealized profit), why not tax the real profit of our residents – our income? A graduated town income tax (replacing a property tax) would require those who make the most money to give the most back to their town, regardless of the home they own or the car they drive. Tax rates could be set to realize the same revenue (I know nothing about how to do this, but I’m sure it could be done) by imposing higher taxes on the highest-income residents (who would stay in the town for the same reason residents with large property tax bills stay – for the quality of life). Residents with lower incomes or fixed incomes would be protected, town revenue would be protected, and, theoretically, no one would be forced out of town.

2. Institute a local sales tax to make up any difference in revenue. The sales tax wouldn’t need to be severe – it could be 1 percent on all purchases over $50, or half a percent on purchases over $100, or something like that. If West Hartford is a boutique shopping destination (and it is, between the Center, BBS and Westfarms), it won’t likely suffer a loss of business to other local competitors (who competes with Crate and Barrel, and would a half percent tax at Crate and Barrel really keep anyone away?). One dollar on a two hundred dollar purchase would be a drop in the bucket for someone who is in a position to make that purchase, but it would be another dollar of tax relief for residents and another dollar toward our quality of life. And as inflation becomes a greater problem (and with all this money we’re printing, that seems like a given), we’ll have a small, tractable hedge against that inflation.

I’m no economist and I’m certainly no financial expert (I might have weathered “market conditions” better otherwise), and I don’t mean to argue that spending cuts aren’t real and necessary (the days of leaf collection are over, folks), but these seem like some common sense, big picture solutions to our budget debate. In all of our bickering about mill rates, perhaps we need to realize that the problem isn’t necessarily the taxes – it’s that we’re choosing to tax potential profit rather than realized income.

Posted in Taxes, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 13 Comments »

Casting Your Votes, Down the Ballot

Posted by whforums on October 17, 2008

A couple of quick links this morning as we shift our attention to our next trip to the “privacy screens” — the November 4th election.

First, check out whctv’s programming schedule. Last night, they started showing pre-filmed debates for the 18th, 19th and 20th House districts as well as the 5th Senate district. These debates will keep running through the 4th of November.

If you’re into meeting the candidates more than you’re into watching them on local access, there’s a Candidate Forum at Blue Back Square’s Outdoor Gathering Space on Sunday from 2-4. This is a great opportunity to engage your local democracy by expressing your concerns to those who represent you and your family. It’ll also give you a chance to educate yourself about those names on the ballot that might otherwise make you feel under-informed. Check out a flier for the event in .pdf form (yeah, it’s going to start a download in some browsers) here.

And if you’re not registered to vote, register already. If you’re eligible and unregistered, what’s wrong with you?

More Guest Posts? “If You Build It …”

I’ve sent an email to Larson, Visconti and Fournier asking them to submit guest posts to WH Forums in the last week of October. No promises that we’ll hear from the candidates, but maybe if you folks make enough noise …

Posted in 2008 Election, Blue Back Square, Federal Government, Local Democracy, Media, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

$600,000 Gone from the Budget. What Do We Cut Next?

Posted by whforums on October 15, 2008

What. You think you could do better?

The Courant reports that Adler and Visconti promised a 3.3 million dollar cut, presented a 2.6 million dollar cut, discovered they had cut a whole bunch of services twice (a great way to save money!) and ultimately presented a 1.4 million dollar cut before voting unanimously with the group to approve the $600,000 cut.

Proposed in the Adler/Visconti plan were $500,000 more from the schools and the removal of an undercover narcotics unit from New Britain Ave./Prospect/Boulevard and Park. I can see the justification for asking for $500,000 from the schools (though I don’t agree with it) — but cutting community policing? In the context of the summer we just had (remember that “spike” in crime?) in what way does this possibly sound like a good idea?

*hangs head and slowly shakes it*

So, what now West Hartford? Slifka said last night:

“In the clear light of day, we’re going to have to assess all of these things, but we need to hear from the community.”

So, community, be heard. Where do we start making cuts in town services beyond these $600,000?

I’ll start. As a town of 60,000 people, do we really need two senior centers? Could we move all of Town Hall, with the exception of emergency services, to a 4 day work week? Should we commission a study re: the efficacy of moving some schools to a 4 day school week (I don’t like this idea terribly, but if I’m going to throw that bomb out there about senior centers, I might as well go after the kids, too)?  As for leaf-pickup, time to give that up, folks.

Posts later this week about the “Problem with Property Taxes” and the Larson/Visconti/Fournier race.

Posted in Budget, budget cuts, Local Democracy, West Hartford | Tagged: , | 26 Comments »

Talking Regionalism

Posted by whforums on October 14, 2008

During the very short life of this blog, I’ve posted about “Regionalism” a few times (most obviously here), but whenever I’ve posted about it, it’s been out of some sort of impulse — a gut sense that it’s the right solution (backed by some reading), but without semblance of a way to begin to think about how to implement regional solutions to local and regional problems.

That’s why I was grateful for this weekend’s editorial in the Courant, which lays out a pretty strong case for both the “whys” and “hows” of regional solutions.

I’m even more grateful for Amy Bergquist’s blog, which has a great post about the editorial and which encourages conversation about regionalism as an idea. The post is a must click in the “regionalism conversation,” and may provide a useful common ground for constructive conversation (yes, that means from you) that challenges how we define ourselves as towns, as cities, and as a “metropolitan” area.

We can bicker all we want about taxes and budgets, but in the end, we need to recenter our conversation around the greater social problems (read: poverty, segregation and their consequences) our area faces and the responsibilities each of us has in light of those problems. The post on Amy’s blog may provide a touchstone to refocus ourselves after a bitter budget debate that, in context, not only appears more symptomatic than problematic, but allows us to too easily become complacent in the face of our contemporary ethical crises.

Posted in Linkage!, Media, Regionalism, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

I’m Spending the Weekend at the Library

Posted by whforums on October 10, 2008

Good to know that, despite the strain of the referendum, despite the threats to town services and the general sky is fallingness of Wall St (I just sit here, and I watch my IRA wither, and I say “I’d prefer not to.” Either I’m no Bartleby or this economy is no pushover narrator …), our library remains not only open and free, but vibrant and thoughtful.

So, to do this weekend at the West Hartford Public Library:

1. Free opera. In my opinion, of all the “big time” arts in Hartford, no one is as under appreciated as the Connecticut Opera (I mean, just look at their building. What’s up with that?). They opera needs your paid support, but to entice you, they’re going to let you score some free opera at the library on Saturday the 11th from 2-3. Seriously — a free hour of Mozart’s Don Giovanni in your public library. This is an event the promises to be just disassociative enough to entertain you while freaking you out. I dare anyone to attend, and, at the end of the hour, leave entirely convinced of the reality of gravity.

2. Voter registration. If you haven’t registered to vote in the upcoming November election, now’s your time. Registration is going down at the library from 10-1 on Saturday the 11th. So you register to vote, you read for an hour, and then you go chill with Mozart. Life is beautiful.

3. So, maybe you’re scared of the library. Maybe there’s that book that you’ve been meaning to bring back that you keep not bringing back because the fine used to be ten dollars and god knows how much it is now. No problem. From 10/14-10/25, you return your book to the public library with a non-perishable food item and, presto-changeo, no more fine. The library’s calling it a “food for fines” program, and if you’re like me and you suck at returning library books, it’s the best value in town. Now take the money you saved by using canned peas as currency and ask yourself, maybe even while listening to Mozart: “Is this my money or the town’s money, and what is my ethical responsibility re: this money?” Just don’t start setting aside peas to pay your taxes with …

Posted in Things to Do, West Hartford, West Hartford Center, West Hartford Public Library | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Analysis in Brief of West Hartford’s Second Referendum

Posted by whforums on October 8, 2008

No way around it, the results of the second referendum, while a decisive “No” victory, show a polarized active minority and a generally apathetic majority.

Since the town has been through 3 referenda in a little more than 15 months, it seems sensible that this particular referendum would see the closest percentage vote of the three. But the degree to which the percentages have shifted (from 73-27, to 66-34, 56-44) have been both regular and drastic. Some thoughts:

The first vote (which saw 73% vote “No”) seems now like a novelty vote. It was an easy way to stand up for something. Also, during that first vote, “No” was exceptionally well organized and “Yes” was not organized in any sensible way. In other words, “No” was essentially running unopposed. In the second vote, both sides were organized, and although “No” won a significant majority, “Yes” won one district and managed a result that was 7% closer than the first. In this most recent vote, “No” won only a slim majoirty and Yes won five districts. This is a long way of saying — the will for this second referendum was present, but, in context, weak.

The mandate of this referendum is, by corollary, equally weakened. This seems irrelevant, as the council has not taken significant action (save removing leaf pickup and not extending teaching contracts to new hires — someone correct me if I’m wrong) upon much stronger mandates.

It seems safe to say that West Hartford is suffering from referendum burnout — as the total votes cast continue to increase (summing the three referenda) the will for the referendum declines. This suggests that “No” may be less the will of the people than it is the will of the voters. As more “people” become “voters” (I’m assuming we have more total unique voters after 3 referenda than we had after two) the margins for “No” shrink (this, again, is likely attributable to burnout. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the June ’09 referendum — and yes, I’m expecting that — to be more of a 60-40 split).

The town Democrats were shrewd in threatening to close Firehouse Number One. While the target of this “conversation” was certainly those residents who would be impacted by a decreased service, the real audience may have been town union members who don’t often talk to one another. This threat likely galvanized the fire union to ally with the teacher’s union, thus increasing the “Yes” “base” and, ultimately, the “Yes” turnout.

And still, the inescapable fact — voter turnout was 28% (as opposed to 29% in June). With “Yes” more galvanized, and with a much larger turnout likely in the November 2009 elections, I would be shocked to see Democrats lose their Town Council majority.

The active minority — the 28% voting — are strikingly polarized (by the percentage vote, and by the conversations we all have, hear and read). The real question may be: What is the will of the silent 72%? We all want to hear from as many voices as possible, but right now we can’t even get 3 out of ten people to answer a yes or no question …

Posted in Budget, budget cuts, Local Democracy, Referendum, West Hartford | Tagged: , | 48 Comments »

West Hartford Referendum Results Part Deux, The Live Blog

Posted by whforums on October 7, 2008

Polls close in two minutes. We’ll be doing a quasi-live blog (updating numbers as they come in) for referendum results tonight, if you’d like to speak your mind, spew your anger, or just watch the numbers roll by (all numbers via WHC TV) …

Absentee Ballots only:

116 Yes

218 No
219 No (two ballots stuck together?)

During the first vote, absentee went 68% No. This time, only 65% No. There is a significant increase in absentee ballots cast.

One District Reporting:

Yes 161

No 377

Gotta wonder what district that is … they are some hard core No people (158-45).

Three Districts Reporting

Yes 607

No 924

5 Districts Reporting

Yes 873 1165

No 1312 1584

No vote down to 60% 57%, compared to the 66% total from the last vote. To be expected in a second referendum, I think.

Six Districts Reporting

Yes 1745

No 2345

Numbers holding … 57% to 43%.

Seven Districts Reporting

Yes 2064

No 2583

Margin keeps shrinking … the “Yes” districts must be coming in …

Nine Districts Reporting

Yes 2459

No 3177

Ten Districts Reporting

Yes 2655

No 3649

Scratch what I was saying about the vote getting closer!

Fourteen Districts Reporting

Yes 3566

No 4867

Yes is close to its 3700 total from the last vote (7074-3700).

Fifteen Districts Reporting

Yes 3625

No 5046

Sixteen Districts Reporting

Yes 3971

No 5317

Watching the debate on CNN. Their live tracking graph thingy is more interesting than what the candidates have to say …

Eighteen Districts Reporting

Yes 4230

No 5664

Numbers still running about 57% to 43% …

Unofficial Results, All Districts:

Yes 4844

No 6152

I’ll post more analysis tomorrow afternoon, but a few quick hits:

I predicted this right — No wins, but a much closer vote (56%-44%) and a depressed turnout. (I predicted that wrong!).

Considering the crap that is the economy, this is, to me, a shockingly close result.

If No can only summon 56% against a budget in this context, it likely means re-election for the majority of our Town Council.

Posted in Budget, Live Blog, Referendum, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

Get Out and Vote Already.

Posted by whforums on October 7, 2008

You do the voting, we’ll live blog the results as they roll in tonight.

Post will go up around 8, so feel free to drop in.

Let us know how turnout is in your district — you can post here or email to whforums@gmail.com

Posted in Live Blog | Tagged: | 1 Comment »