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Citizens groups want to cut budget 30 percent

October 02, 2009
CLAREMONT – Claremont Citizens for Lower Taxes will hold their "tea party" Saturday at the Moose Lodge on Broad Street, as a symbol of their dissatisfaction with the city's property taxes.

Although the group's leader, Cynthia Howard, freely admits that the petition CCLT presented to the city council proposing a municipal spending cap was authored by the New Hampshire Advantage Coaltion, she doesn't believe her group is being manipulated as some have suggested.

"People can have whatever opinions they want," she said. "But our group is an independent group. This is something I've personally been working on for the last five or six years."

Howard believes that although a nearly identical proposal was ruled unconstitutional by a Merrimack County Judge, the amendment is legal. A city request for an advisory ruling on the legality of the tax cap was denied this week by a Sullivan County Superior Court judge.

"There are six towns and cities in the state that have tax caps," she said at her home Tuesday. "In most cases they've had them for years, and all of a sudden it's unconstitutional?"

Former city councilor Richard Dietz is also a member of the group, and believes the city's decision to seek a court ruling is politically motivated.

"We're being coerced into getting involved," he said Tuesday among other group members gathered at the Howard home. "As a citizen's committee, we achieved our objective of getting the question on the ballot. I don't think we should get involved as interveners … the dispute is between the city and the attorney general's office."

CCLT member and candidate for city council Gerald Donatelli also believes the cap is legal.

"It's constitutional because the people have the right to put it on the ballot and to hold their officials accountable," he said. "Otherwise it's a dictatorship. If I were the judge, I'd leave it alone and let the people decide."

Phil Howard, Cynthia's husband, said he's not sure what the council is "afraid of."

Let the people vote," he said. "They either want it, or they don't. Let them decide."

The proposed spending cap would be tied to the rate of inflation, and could be overridden at anytime by a two-thirds vote of the council. But CCLT members have openly suggested cutting the budget by 30 percent or more in order to reign in spending.

"I have an idea," said Donatelli. "Why don't why take our city manager and pay him like a secretary? (Donatelli said the city manager is paid $157,000 a year but his salary is actually $100,000 and there are no health benefits) We pay him that much, but we're told to button up? And when they go on trips to conventions or meetings, how about instead of staying in $100 a night hotels cutting it down a bit?"

Donatelli admitted he doesn't want to see cuts in police and fire, but isn't convinced that would happen if the city implemented a cap.

"Maybe they could use more volunteers," he said. "I'd volunteer for police or fire."

He added that he wonders who made the decision to have lights on in the new parking garage 24 hours a day.

"Why not put them on a sensor?" he asked. "Who's paying the light bill? They had solar panels and they should've used them."

Cynthia Howard said she'd like to see less money spent on advertising, and more charity events like the ones that were held in Charlestown years ago when it was decided residents wanted a town pool.

"They fundraised and they paid for the whole thing," she said. "The council controls the city manager, not the other way around. They used to do a good job of that."

Phil Howard believes the arrival of Santagate marked the end of industry in Claremont.

"He's been here eight years," he said. "And now all the industry is gone."

The tea party tomorrow also doubles as a charity event for Crons Disease, for which most of the proceeds will go toward.

"Jack Kimble of Granite State Patriots will be there to speak," said Howard. "He also has a radio program on WAB in Portsmouth."

Donatelli will also perform some music, including "some Frankie Valle, mostly 50's and '60's stuff."

There will be food available at a small cost, but admission to the event is free, although donations for the benefit are accepted.

Howard said there are a few other musicians who may be there to perform, but couldn't confirm it.

"We'll also have an appearance by Pam Smith of the 9/12 Project," said Howard. "Basically it's a surrogate to the program to [cable news personality] Glenn Beck's program."

The event kicks off at 12:30 and ends at 5:30 followed by a dance from 7 to 11. For more information call Cynthia Howard at (603)543-1372, or the Claremont Moose Lodge at (603)542-8054.

Martin Lord and Osman
Salmon Press
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