Today the Derry News posted an editorial regarding the budget fight in the town of Derry, New Hampshire. You see, the Derry Town Council wants to do something so shocking it’s almost unheard of – they want to actually cut taxes for residents!
The town of Derry has one of the highest tax rates in the entire state of New Hampshire. The Derry News editorial is severely lacking in facts and the unions in Derry aren’t telling the truth. Almost every single year since 2007, taxes have been increased. In 2007 the tax rate was $22.05/$1,000 and in 2013 it was $31.49/$1,000. During recent town election, the biggest gripe residents had was the tax rate is too high. Town council members ran on the promise they would cut taxes and indeed they are keeping their promise.
As is par for the course anytime local governments seek to ease the tax burden on its residents, the unions gin up their members and the townspeople by declaring their safety is at risk. They are doing this in Derry as well but it is completely false. Derry is a town of around 33,000 people. They have four fire departments. Yes that is correct, four. During testimony at the last town council meeting someone compared Derry to the city of Dover as far as size and services are concerned. Dover has three fire stations.
To get a better picture you can see where the fire departments are located on this map. The fire station that would possibly be closed is on Hampstead Road known as “Fire Station 4.” This fire station is 1.4 miles from the Central Fire Station. The other two fire stations are 3.2 and 3.4 miles away according to google maps. It isn’t as if Fire Station 4 is on the outskirts of town remotely located from the others.
Several town council members have already explained that a huge contingent of people have practically begged them to lower the tax rate. So the unions make sure all their union members pack the town meetings to make it look as if the majority in the town want to continue to pay outrageously high taxes. They even started a petition on line where they actually claim “Are we willing to wait when we dial 911, or be told there’s no one to respond?” And of course the Derry Firefighters have taken the fight to Facebook. All of this is intimidating for regular residents who are often afraid to speak out.
There are some facts that unions aren’t telling the taxpayers of Derry though. The town administrator sought to have a conversation with the union and department heads over budget cuts but each and every one of them refused to have any discussion. Residents want lower taxes, the town council wants to give them that tax relief and the biggest expense are town employees (the schools are another story and their budgets are out of control as well). Unions continue to act like they can’t possibly cut anywhere or give anything up but again that is simply not true.
You can listen to the cuts proposed by Town Administrator Galen Stearns at the last town meeting. Unions were told if they would compromise there wouldn’t have to be any layoffs or closures but that wasn’t good enough for them. The cuts to the budget that Stearns made included 17 layoffs and half of those are actually vacant positions. No one wants to see anyone lose their job, including the town council which is why they tried to work with the unions and department heads in the first place.
First you can see the long list of employees in Derry and the salaries associated with this list. This is no chump change and doesn’t include overtime or benefits. The overtime in Derry is completely outrageous and out of control. Between and fire department and police department alone, overtime is costing the taxpayers almost $1.5 million per year. Total overtime for all town employees is almost $2 million per year. At that rate it would be cheaper to end all overtime and hire a few more employees. By the way, overtime is actually budgeted every year by the departments.
In the union contracts, which you can review on line, it should be noted that most have the employees paying less than $100/week for a health insurance premium on a family plan. The taxpayers pay the rest. Given the increased cost of health insurance across the board since Obamacare’s inception, this is a pretty low premium given what many in the private sector are now paying.
There’s also something in the union contracts called a ‘buy out’. Most of you have probably never heard of this in the private sector. If a union member is covered on his/her spouse’s health insurance plan, they don’t need it to be provided by the taxpayers. In the private sector, you’d simply opt not to participate in that benefit your company is offering.
In the Town of Derry, union members are paid thousands of dollars a year if they choose not to participate in the health insurance program. You read that right. If a union member decides they don’t want to participate in the health insurance plan, they are paid thousands of dollars a year. In the private sector you do not get an increase in salary if you do the same. This ‘buy out’ plan costs taxpayers almost $500,000 per year.
These are just some of the things that unions aren’t bothering to share with taxpayers. All of these things are available to the public to review but most don’t know they exist. To claim there is no potential cost savings is a falsehood that is being perpetrated by the unions because they don’t want to lose any of their cushy benefits. One cannot blame them but there comes a point where the taxpayers have to draw the line and say ‘we have had enough!’ That point has come.
No one is questioning the hard work of the town employees or union members. As stated above, no one wants to see anyone laid off either. What should be questioned are the false statements made by unions that anyone’s safety is at risk. What should be questioned are the statements made by unions that they have no room to compromise. Derry residents elected town council members to cut their tax rates. The only thing getting in the way of that are the outrageous falsehoods and fearmongering of the unions in Derry.
Cross posted from Examiner