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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The (other) Rite of Spring

The newspapers are starting the 'countdown to the IRS filing deadline' stories this morning, which makes sense since there's a week left to file your federal (and state and in some places, city) income tax return. It's one way of knowing it's Spring as these stories bloom every year at this time. I was reading about how, again and as always, Post Offices will remain open very late next Tuesday evening so that procrastinators can still get their returns postmarked under the wire. Pardon my faded, jaded cynicism. Show of hands: how many do NOT know that next Tuesday is the tax filing deadline? That's what I thought-keep those hands up for just another moment. How many can guess what date next year's filing deadline might be? Gee, imagine my surprise. Those who can't figure this stuff out, even allowing for weekends and Patriot's Day (in Massachusetts) are the same folks who lose track of when Christmas is this year or when, exactly, they are having their birthday. Please.....

In Norwich, CT, last night, the City Manager shared his vision of the 2008-2009 budget and offered a verbal overview of about six minutes that suggested he's been mindful of the City Council's desires to keep the rate of increase (and all of us knew there would be an increase because the cost of goods and services continues to rise) at or below the consumer price index and he suggested that he had, indeed, accomplished that. I hoped last week that, before my fellow Norwichians (Norwichites? Roseheads? Rosebuds? I have NO idea what our nickname is, though I, unkindly, have had a few thoughts on this. Key West has Jimmy Buffett and Norwich has Edwin Land and Benedict Arnold) show up for the public hearings on the budget to offer comments that they will at least look at previous budgets, also on line, and glance at a newspaper so they have some sense of what things in the real world cost.

Actually, an educational opportunity happens this Thursday as the Council holds a budget hearing to, literally, hear about why the monies requested by the various city departments were requested and what they intend to do with them (I'd love to hear someone, anyone, from a department stand up and say 'we're planning on blowing it, the whole wad, on candy! Heck with the taxpayers! Gummi Bears and M&M's for everyone!' and then run out of the hearing room). It will be this Thursday, starting at 1800 (6 PM) in Room 335 of City Hall (the room with the ceilings higher than those in a basketball gym. How'd you like to heat that room? Good news, if you live in Norwich, we do and pay handsomely I'm sure for the privilege) and the first public hearing will be next Monday, 14 April, at 1900 in City Council chambers.

I learned a couple of things last night (attention, fellow old dogs! Yes, while my slipper fetching skills are non-existent and advanced years have made rolling over more of a chore than ever before, I, too, can still learn new tricks and so, too, can you). It's been practice, as I understood the City Manager, for municipal vehicles, to include police cars, if they require refueling after the public works garage has closed for the day, to buy fuel at a regular gas station (I have to believe there are economies of scale benefiting all of us when Public Works buys enough fuel for all city vehicles) and he hopes the PWD goal for 24 hour operation and accessibility of the pumps will benefit the bottom line (law of unintended consequences says one or more gas stations will have a tougher time economically as their fuel sales drop as the PWD pumps' use increases).

I also found out (actually this part I knew before last night) that city employees get paid every Thursday and that if you swing by City Hall early enough Thursday mornings you'll see a line of municipal vehicles (no observation on where the fuel they're burning while idling was purchased is necessary by me) waiting for the finance department to open so the paychecks can be distributed. The City Manager suggested last night shifting the procedure to direct deposit at a savings in excess of $30,000 in costs to the comptroller's office (and who knows how much of a savings in unexpended fuel and non-productive hours) and I hope all new municipal employees are placed in this system as eventually that will mean everyone will be direct deposit.

In my perfect world, before the public hearing next Monday, each speaker would be required to take a short three-question test on the proposed budget, or funding levels in previous years for particular programs. I suggest this because I have no illusions and even less intellect, but I'm willing to concede that I don't know what I don't know. I'm always amazed at the number of people with whom I share the planet who don't subscribe to this belief. They may not be experts in affordable housing, but they disagree with the findings and recommendations of those who are. They don't own a pet but are convinced that $610,000 for an animal shelter is too much. Perhaps they all stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night, unless they're too smart to fall for that old gag. I'm just trying to manage the level of acrimony we'll end up with here in the Rose City where so many of us not only know everything, but know everything better. Actually, and we're afraid to admit this (but welcome to Life in the West), what we fear is that we know the price of everything but have learned the value of nothing.
-bill kenny

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