The Laconia Tax Cap Odyssey

By Niel Young

LACONIA, NH -- It was not the easy road, but it was the only road to ensure that politicians and bureaucrats could not interfere with the final product.

If only city councilors could have disciplined themselves to keep property tax bills within reason, those of us who went forward using the petition as a means to place the Tax Cap Charter Amendment on the ballot for the voters this November may have said, well, let’s just hope that they – the Mayor and City Council – hear our pleas.

What the present council and four previous councils (which included most of the same cast of characters) did, was insulting to the taxpayers.

If you are a regular reader of this column you know that “the Tax Cap Committee of 5” did obtain more than enough signatures to place a charter amendment on the ballot.

The City Attorney signed off on the language and the city council had no choice other than vote to send it on to the State Attorney General’s office for certification.

This is because we did not allow them to be part of the process for fear they would slow said process – if you know what I mean – since the mayor and some councilors along with “the powerful” and their gang of taxpayer-be-damned spenders are definitely opposed to any spending limit.

Well, as with those folks in Manchester working the petition route to place a “spending cap” charter amendment on the November ballot, our petition did not pass muster with the AG’s office.

This did not please me and what to do about it was frustrating.

As you know, most of the voters of Franklin are happy with their “Tax Cap” as shown in a couple of attempts to change the city charter to eliminate the language that guides their city councilors.

Organizers in Laconia and Manchester went to the voters and asked to petition – allowed by City Charter – a Charter Amendment to appear on the ballot in November.

We accomplished that.

It’s our City Charter; why do we not get to write it our way with a majority of the voters approving such an amendment?

Then I received an email from a Laconia native who lives in another community telling me not to give up, get the Tax Cap on the ballot for the people!

Reading over the 12-page decision from the AG’s office one day, I had an idea; perhaps if an amended petition question met the concerns of Attorney Bud Fitch, would we still have a chance for the Cap to be placed before the voters?

After deciding I wasn’t ready to abandon the plan, we contacted the AG’s office to set up an appointment, or at least request that they take a look at our amended version which now read that all overrides of a Tax Cap could be by two-thirds of the City Council instead of the “majority plus one,” that was in the original Charter Amendment.

We met late afternoon Oct. 4, and at the end of the meeting we were told that it would be Thursday before we would receive a decision as there were other pressing matters scheduled for Wednesday.

As my friend, Franklin City Councilor Ken Merrifield, says, “The AG is required to help proponents of charter amendments by state law. They were very kind and helpful to the hundreds of Laconia citizens who wanted this issue on the ballot in November. One would expect an honest and open government to do exactly that.”

Shortly after noon Thursday the decision was sent to City Hall and me stating that the committee of 5 had satisfied the state with the amended version.

To this point no one knew of our efforts.

The City Manager attempted to reach Mayor Mark Fraser several times by phone with no success. Realizing the importance of this matter to over 600 Laconia voters who had signed the petition, she called council members to meet at City Hall that evening because we must stay within the 30 days before an election law which says the ballots have to be ready for printing prior.

The Council meets – with the mayor present.

It’s obvious he is not happy with this new development.

Okay, here is where it starts to get ugly.

Mayor Fraser starts off in an attempt to, in my opinion, influence the voters by asking me if I knew that the Tax Cap would stifle new construction or expansion of water or sewer lines.

Since he addressed me, I responded.

Those departments are considered Enterprise Funds and therefore funded with “user fees”. The Tax Cap only applies to taxes.

These are desperate times for the mayor. Time to alarm the voters!

Let me make it easier for you to understand what the mayor had to say the next day – considering he abruptly rose from his seat and announced that he was going home because he believed I was questioning his integrity.

From the 10/8 Laconia Daily Sun (reporter Michael Kitch): “Fraser was especially troubled to discover that Niel Young, who led the effort to place proposal on the ballot, and others, who resolved the issues clouding the proposal in a meeting with Fitch and Attorney General Kelly Ayotte on Tuesday, did not inform city officials until Thursday. “Why the sneakiness?’ he asked. ‘They hid it from us until the eleventh hour’.”

One: You don’t pick up the phone and ring the AG’s office and tell them you are coming over and need a decision before you leave.

Two: Why would we keep the Mayor and the “powerful” informed of our plans to do something good for the citizenry? Do they call us and tell us what they decided in conversations regarding the future of the city politically, or do they have a strategy they would prefer to keep to themselves until………….?

Fraser's charge of "sneakiness" head-on: Mayor Fraser, this was never your initiative. It was the people's initiative. We represent hundreds of Laconians who are waiting for a real Tax Cap... one that you never proposed, and never brought to them. It wasn't yours to begin with. Why would you ever be involved?

And you are going to love this one. The final paragraph in Kitch’s report: “Fraser found the council’s decision to put the amendment on the ballot in keeping with its past conduct. ‘They are more about doing favors for people than doing their jobs,’ he said. ‘They were pandering for Niel Young’s endorsement’.”

My endorsement? I thought elected officials were there to be representatives for the people?

Mark, I am but an unpaid lobbyist for the people.

For the record: the Mayor has endorsed the candidates for Mayor and Ward 1 who are both opposed to the Tax Cap. Is he saying that I cannot work hard to elect those candidates who support the Tax Cap?

Fraser wants to control the Tax Cap Charter Amendment that belongs to the 600 and more at election time. The Tax Cap is not his - it belongs to the people of a Laconia!

Ken Merrifield again: “To Mayor Fraser and any other pro-tax opponent of the Cap: Are you afraid to ask the people of Laconia if they want a Tax Cap? Why would you stand in the way of a referendum of the people? Let the people choose”!

And another friend, former Franklin Mayor Tony Giunta, weighs in: “There's nothing worse to society than an oppressive tax structure and I believe local politicians are exercising ‘property tax terrorism’ on its citizens.

“The tax cap is the people's response... the little guys' response. I want

to be part of that ‘little guys' revolution”!

Ken and Tony will join me in the second hour this Saturday (October 15, 8:00 a.m.) during The Advocates radio program.

Mr. Young is a former Laconia City Councilman and N.H. State Representative. He also hosts a weekly radio program, The Advocates, Saturdays at 8:00 a.m. LINK. His column appears weekly in The Weirs Times.

See Niel Young's Scrapbook here

Posted October 20, 2005

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