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Bob Odell
State Senator
District 8

 

September 8, 2008

Senator Odell is Chairman of Ways and Means Committee, a member of the Energy, Environment and Economic Development Committee, and the Finance Committee.

 


      Tuesday is primary day. For some of us, this will be our fourth time to go to the polls this year. We had the first in the nation January presidential primary, March elections for school board and municipal officials and now the New Hampshire primary for state offices. While there are not many contested primaries, it is still important to exercise your opportunity to vote and help select the candidates who will be on the ballot this fall. We protect and strengthen our democracy by participating in every election.

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      Last week, Transportation Commissioner George Campbell asked the Executive Council to add $500,000 to a $2.2 million paving contract for a section of route 93 north of Concord. The reason: the price of mixed asphalt has soared from $455 to $808 per ton. Increased costs of highway maintenance and improvements has come just as Americans and New Hampshire residents are driving less. That means less money from gasoline taxes to fund state highway programs. The state receives 18 cents on each gallon of gas sold and the federal government gets 18.4 cents.

      Many highway projects are 80-90% funded with dollars from Washington. But with Americans driving less, down 3.7% in May over May, 2007, the federal Highway Trust Fund will not have money to pay for prior commitments to states including New Hampshire. Contractors are worried about $50 million in Washington money that is tied up in Congressional politics. 

      With reduced money from the state gas tax and uncertainty over federal funds, the state highway program is just one example of the challenges that face legislative budget writers next year. Costs are rising for the everyday tools of government: heating fuel, gasoline and diesel for vehicles, food and medical services for prisons, contractual obligations for employee pay and health insurance.

      And on the other side of the ledger, state general fund and education trust fund revenue was off by 10% for August. Revenue was $10 million below budget projections but very significantly it was $2.6 million below August revenue last year. While business taxes were above budget, meals and rooms, tobacco, liquor, real estate and lottery income were below projections. If revenue lags for the full fiscal year by 5 to 10%, the shortfall will be $125 to $250 million. 

      Departments are working now on budgets for the next biennium that begins on July 1, 2009 and goes through June of 2011. That is a long way out to project costs and income, but the Governor has asked for very constrained recommendations on the spending side. 

      We know costs are going up and future revenue is uncertain, so when the Governor delivers his budget in an address to the legislature next February, we will know where the priorities of government will be in the next few years. The decisions in the next legislative session on the state budget will not be easy. 

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      As I drive to the transfer station I pass the 1794 Lempster Meetinghouse raised up off the ground as it undergoes structure repairs. It is the same thing when I drive through Newbury on my way to Concord and see the progress of the Center Meeting House renovations. Work continues on the bell tower project in Acworth. Each community has been fund-raising for years and many local residents are deeply involved in these projects.

      The town of Washington has some of the most beautiful historic buildings in New Hampshire and are often seen in scenic calendars and other places as reflections of the rural landscape of our state. Ron Jager invited me to sit in on a presentation by Rick Monahan, an architect with years of experience with historic structures, about options for responsible renovation of the Town Hall, originally the Town House. Rick made his presentation to more than 40 residents. 

      Dating back to the late 18th century, the building is certainly an artifact but is also utilized for local meetings and houses the town offices. So, every year, hundreds of residents and visitors troop through the historic building to do their business with the selectmen, tax collector and town clerk. Given the desire to have the historic structure continue as the home of the town offices, one critically important step will be to put a new foundation under the building which could include a full basement. 

     Decisions are down the road. But, it was wonderful to see a community engaged in a long term process to restore and continue to use one of the state’s true historic trophies. Ron, of course, is a very knowledgeable person on things Washington and rural in New Hampshire. He and Grace Jager wrote, among other books, Portrait of a Hill Town, A History of Washington, New Hampshire 1876-1976.

      Saving and using historic building that have defined many small towns for two centuries or more is certainly an active pursuit in our region. And well worth the effort for us and future generations.

Wanna buy an ambulance?

      The Grantham FAST Squad is selling a 1993 Ford E-250 Diesel (non-power stroke) Type II Ambulance with 10,812 miles … and some electrical issues. The vehicle can be viewed behind the Fire Station. Put your bid in writing and submit it to the Grantham Town Administrator, 300 Route 10 South, Grantham NH 03753 or email to admin@granthamnh.net. Offers accepted until 5 p.m. Sept. 29. Best offer takes it! Contact the fire station at 603-863-5710 for more details.

 

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