Monday, October 5, 2015

Calling “AAB” stalwarts: you want US to spend $22.3 million for how many riders???

We happened to find ourselves in an old record shop (remember what they are?) last week, and came across what we suggest should be the Theme Music for NNEPRA’s handling of the Downeaster Portland North Service Expansion Project. 


We listened to both sides, and we liked their beat.  And we think you can dance to both.


Don’t believe us?  Look at these AAB’ers proving it, in their earlier days, we presume.

We were stimulated to think in this direction because of a thought piece we received from our Transport Professional friend, George Betke:

Representatives of “All Aboard Brunswick,” the local cheerleading affiliate of passenger-rail advocacy group TrainRiders/Northeast, regularly attend the public sessions of Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority board meetings. Their recent agenda has focused on support of the 52,000-square-foot maintenance and layover facility proposed to be situated off Church Street to provide irrefutable evidence that the presence of Amtrak “Downeaster” service to Brunswick does in fact stimulate real estate development.

That industrial building, originally estimated to cost $12.7-million, would enable indoor overnight storage of three full four- or five-car train sets, such that a third daily round trip could be added to the present Brunswick-Boston schedule. The obsession with spending taxpayer money on a luxury enjoyed in few other places begs the question, “What evidence is there of demand for additional service?” A NNEPRA official actually has stated a goal of running six daily turns to Brunswick, making it the small-town railroad capital of all New England.

How about first producing more riders for the two existing trips in each direction before making another major financial commitment to more trains? Proponents are fond of citing the fact that ridership “exceeded projections by 50%” in the first two years of operation without noting that the bar was set very low. Combined patronage for Freeport and Brunswick was forecast at 36,000, an average of roughly 100 daily passengers, or just 25 per train. That’s half the capacity of an inter-city motor coach, which doesn’t require a dedicated single-purpose infrastructure.

After nearly three years of testing potential demand, the “Downeaster” route extension to Freeport and Brunswick seems to be leveling out at about 120 daily riders, predominantly at Brunswick. Because of the Boston-oriented schedule, at least two-thirds use the 7:05 a.m. morning departure and the 8:20 p.m. evening arrival. The second, off-peak train is very lightly patronized. Why would additional off-hours trips be expected to expand the market rather than further diluting the average number of riders per train? How much would the “AAB” crowd be willing to spend (in capital and subsidy) to assure that folks would have a choice of six times to depart for Boston and return?

NNEPRA pays operator Amtrak by the trip, regardless of the number of passengers aboard. The need therefore is for a higher average count per train, not a lower one. Can “AAB” contend with a straight face that six trains would attract three times the ridership of the present two?

Betke’s piece caused us to review some things.  First, the most recent number publicized for the Brunswick MLF is $13.8 million, though we understand from the NNEPRA web site that the contract price has not been finalized.  Second, NNEPRA’s 2015 TIGER Grant Cycle Application, submitted earlier this year, says the estimated cost of the Royal Junction Siding needed to “optimize” the Portland North Service is $8.5 million.  You can find the info here: TIGER 7 Grant Application - Royal Junction Siding Project | Amtrak Downeaster


Those two numbers add up to $22.3 Million, a rather princely sum, even in these days of printing money when it suits our needs.  We’re confident the REAL costs will be substantially higher, but this is big enough to make our point.  That point being $22.3 million to do WHAT???

“Portland North” service consists of service to Freeport and Brunswick.  Betke, in his note above, estimates this service is carrying about 120 riders a day, or an average of 30 per train.  Considering the average rider goes round/trip, this amounts to effectively carrying 60 riders per day, the majority at Brunswick.

We have some data of our own:

Brunswick ridership chart

You can see our takeaway; even before the numerous problems with track repair this year, an average of 34 riders per day travel between Brunswick and ALL points to the south.  And for Freeport, an average of 10 (rounded) per day travel between that shopping mecca and ALL points to the south.  And no one can prove that these are new travelers, instead of travelers diverted from using other alternatives (auto, bus).

When we think of spending $22.3 million to support this ridership, we can only ask what it is NNEPRA, AAB, and the others who support this idea are thinking?  Even allowing for excessive Kool-Aid consumption.  But perhaps there’s another conclusion.


We note from NNEPRA Board Meeting minutes that AAB members frequently attend those meetings, including the Dunbars, the Knoxes, soon to be town Councilor Alison Harris, and our frequent detractor Ms. Boochever (“the Booch.”)  Which, oddly enough, rhymes with “pooch…”


So in all earnestness, we hereby call upon said AAB members to respond to Side with an explanation of how they can justify the expenditure of $22.3 million (not including ongoing operating deficits) in public moneys to make capital improvements for slightly over half a busload of riders between Brunswick and points south on a daily basis.  They might even enlist the assistance of the loyal supporters currently sitting on the town council.  You/we/they know who they are.  We’ll publish their offering here.

They can probably ignore the Freeport riders, because most will likely shift to the Metro Bus once it begins service (

If the carriage set finds it unseemly to submit to our picayune publication, we’re sure The Ostrich would be glad to run their explanation for area wide consumption and edification.

Either way, we think it’s incumbent upon them to forthrightly address The Other Side of what appears to be a wholly unwarranted and wasteful plan.


Oh…and one more thing: we read in the NNEPRA Board Minutes that NNEPRA’s 2016 budget calls for $9.658 million in operating revenue against $22.575 million in total operating expenses, for a projected operating deficit of nearly $13 million, or 57% plus. 

So you can understand why nobody involved thinks spending $22.3 million in capital to ‘optimize’ Brunswick Service is a big deal.

Friday, October 2, 2015

All Aboard Freeport….but not on the Downeaster!


Anyone who is anybody in Cape Brunswick knows the esteemed members of All Aboard Brunswick prefer to travel with the dignity befitting their stature.  Accordingly, they prefer the Downeaster, even it it’s no match for the Coach once used by Queen Victoria.


Which is why we like to think of AAB as the local Carriage Set.

Comprised of various retired diplomats, high ranking bureaucrats, and other careerists from various branches of the ruling class, AAB membership would faint away at the very idea of having to ride upon common carriage like a bus.

As Chance would have it, we posted three items a year ago on the possibility of a bus service going into competition with the Downeaster.  You can review our efforts here

Now comes news that such a service between Freeport and Portland could be starting very soon.

The story is running in this weeks Coastal Journal on Page 3.  

CJ Freeport Metro Bus Oct 15

Incredibly, they plan to have four stops in Freeport, and run nine trips a day from Freeport to Portland.  And for a one way fare of $3.

Pshaw we expect the AAB elite to say.   How can that compare with two trips a day made by the Downeaster, which has one stop in Freeport?  And costs a darn site more than $3 to ride?


We have a hunch, though, that the little people of Freeport may just find it to their liking.

And just think; the service can begin with a simple agreement reached at a town council meeting.  No need to complete a multi-million dollar infrastructure upgrade, or build special boarding platforms before it can get under way.

We don’t expect the new bus service to have any noticeable effect on the Brunswick – Portland ridership count, even if it does expand to 6 round trips per day as the NNEPRA ED stated last week at the Rally for Rail.

The beautiful people of Brunswick will always have need of a proper mode of transport upon which to ride in style.

Bon Voyage, fair ladies and gentlemen.  And make sure you keep your ties in order.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Speaking of revaluation….


Last week’s Bowdoin Orient, besides the usual cultural and social amusements, and the hi-jinx in the campus security report, contained the above lead article, which you can read at

We thought it a bit ironic that while the town moves forward on revaluation of properties in town, Bowdoin’s endowment has been ‘revalued’ for the most recent fiscal year (FY 15), which ended June 30th.  As you can see, it returned 14.4% in this year, which is absolutely remarkable in today’s near zero  interest rate economy.  We’re not a hedge fund aficionado, but we think any fund would be pleased with a 14.4% annual return.

In round numbers, the fund grew by $177 million last year, or in the range of $100,000 or so for each student.  That’s damn good!

This at an elite, highly selective liberal arts college where we’re quite sure the average student is immersed in anti-capitalist rhetoric, and regular group loathing of ‘the 1%.’  Which is what alumni of Bowdoin frequently end up becoming, and as a result, donate substantial amounts to the college, driving the endowment ever higher.  Allowing the average student to be the beneficiary of the very system they are so repulsed by.  (At least in public settings.)  Perhaps they should ask their parents how they feel about the system that so generously subsidizes their education.

The story got us to wondering, to no productive purpose, whether the upcoming town wide revaluation would include all Bowdoin facilities.  We’ve long swagged that appraised value would be in the $500 million or more range, effectively raising town valuation by nearly 50%.

Such information is only of ‘academic’ curiosity, since the college is classified as a ‘non-profit’ for property tax purposes, and therefore, with only a few small exceptions, its real properties are exempt from tax payments.

Pardon us if we have a hard time swallowing ‘non-profit’ stature for an entity that earns $177 million on their savings and investments in one year.

Which is why we’re looking for a board of trustees to charter Other Side College.  We’re working on a mission statement when we find the time, and in between scraping up shekels in our own musty accounts so we can pay our ever-growing property tax levy.


On the bright side, we’ve earned more than $1 dollar so far this year on the funds in our checking account, so that’s a big help.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

When you’re gambling with OPM, the sky’s the limit, and the possibilities are endless……


We think we’ve told you before that we’re a devoted fan of “The Great American Songbook,” which includes songs like ‘Pennies From Heaven.’ 

Don’t you know each cloud contains…pennies from heaven.  You’ll find your fortune falling….all over town; make sure that your umbrella…is upside down!” 

We can recite the lyrics of the song even now, more than 50 years since we put nickels in the Juke Box at Dee’s Luncheonette, so we could listen to Sinatra sing it.

If only today’s record setting downpour would have left pennies on our roads and driveways.

You know what?  That really doesn’t matter when OPM is so readily available. 

“Stella?  Get Cole Porter on the line, and tell him we have an idea for a new song…..OPM from heaven.  And bring me one of those cigars, will ya’ Hon?”

Shirley, you must remember our friends the Oppem sisters, don’t you?  Moppem, Soppem, and Foppem we call them.

All three joined us at a gala “Rally for Passenger Rail” in Auburn last Thursday night.  At least in spirit.  The event was put on by the Passenger Rail Coalition whose logo is shown above.

On this great occasion, we heard Patsy Quinn, ED of NNEPRA, affirm that her goals are to have “4 to 5 round trips daily” between Brunswick and Boston, and “6 round trips per day” between Portland and Brunswick.  NNEPRA, of course, is the state agency that operates the Amtrak Downeaster, so those of you who enjoy the coming and going of the train at Maine Street Station can look forward to triple the current movements to and fro.

These disclosures were more or less an incidental bonus to the main subject of the gathering, which was the expansion of passenger rail to Lewiston/Auburn, Bethel, and points beyond, like Montreal.

We provided some excerpts of the parameters associated with this sort of expansion a few weeks back in this post.  Here are the highlights:

MDOT Aug 11 Portland North 1

MDOT Aug 11 Portland North 2

For Bethel, the particulars are equally appealing:

MDOT Aug 11 Portland North 3

MDOT Aug 11 Portland North 4

A bit of follow-up on your part will show that capital investments up front include additional train sets, new Layover Facilities, and new stations, among other things.

A friend of ours, a transport professional, looked at the numbers above and determined the operating subsidy would be over $100 per rider.


But as passenger rail advocates in New Hampshire have said, ‘it’s worth the gamble.’  Of course it is in their conception; going to Las Vegas, or in this case, the Oxford Casino, and playing with someone else’s money, can only have an upside.

Seriously; what’s the worst that could happen?

And the best?

Remember the old days when mobster movies referred to cash money as ‘lettuce?’  OPM is the new, non-GMO, sustainably raised version of ‘lettuce,’ and out there in Western Maine, they apparently believe it’s available in ample measure.

With a tasty dip and a few sides to make it more attractive.

Media coverage of the event included this photo:


In case you don’t recognize him, this is Tony O’Donnovan, founder of the Maine Rail Transit Coalition, and tireless lobbyist for passenger rail in Augusta.  The same Toney Donovon who called your humble correspondent a Richard (well, actually, a common nickname for Richard), and who testified in March at a hearing for LD 323 as follows:

My name is Tony Donovan, Portland resident commercial realtor specializing in site location of development at train stations. I have been involved in passenger rail for over a decade. I was the first Realtor to market the Brunswick Maine Street Train Station site, the Realtor who attracted a $100 million dollar investor to the station site in Portland and I am working with municipalities and investors at similar sites
around New England.

The towns and cities served by the Downeaster Amtrak passenger rail between Boston and Brunswick, like their counterparts across the nation, are realizing exponential economic prosperity at the sites served by passenger train stations.

He’s a legend in his own mind in Brunswick, and the authority declaring that we’re experiencing ‘exponential economic prosperity,’ whatever the hell that is, because of the Downeaster.  And he adds the credibility of the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club to that declaration.

How could you not be impressed?

And how could you not tell everyone else that it’s certainly been worth the gamble here in Cape Brunswick?

                   Ladies of Brunswick

Even if the “Ladies of Brunswick,” who formed All Aboard Brunswick, frown on gambling.  Though they’re known to make exceptions for special cases, especially when advocated by handsome young men like Tony.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Brunswick TM promises no budget increase in next fiscal year; Johnny Protocols backs him up


Have you read the article in The Forecaster about the revaluation discussion at the town council meeting this past Monday eve.?  You’ll find it here:   It includes this passage:

“This is a matter of law, we cannot avoid this,” said Councilor John Richardson.

Town Manager John Eldridge stressed that the revaluation would not result in the town acquiring more revenue from property taxes, but rather redistribute where those taxes are coming from.

Richardson likened the process to re-dividing the slices of a pie, rather than making the pie larger.


First, we’d like to thank Councilor Richardson for reminding us of how important it is to comply with the law, and for the fine role model he’s been in that regard.

As you can see above, Mr. Manager John Eldridge assures us, in so many words, that the town budget will not be increasing next year, as we had hoped for in this recent post.  In that item, we provided this historic look at the revenue and tax rates surrounding our last revaluation:


Note in the last two columns that while the tax rate initially declined by $2.40, in just three years from the reval, it had MORE than eclipsed that reduction.  Note as well, in column 1, that the year of the revaluation featured a 4.9 % increase in property tax revenue, and the following year, a 9.2% increase.  With constant beyond inflation increases in the ensuing years.                                                                                                                                                                                                     

As Frank Lee might say, we don’t place much stock in Mr. Manager’s assurance.  He does, however, have the backing of Johnny P. on the assertion, using his constant pie size imagery.  Fortunately for the pie-man, he won’t be at the table next year to restate his commitment to Mr. Manager’s tacit promise.

Mr. Eldridge will have to decide whether he wants to borrow the Howie Carr line we use from time to time; you know the one:

“You can trust us on this, because we’re not like all the others.”

The good news for town staff is that they can get to work on next year’s budget, knowing there will be no increase in property tax revenue.  For the very first time that we can remember, a budget bogey has been promulgated for the next cycle, as we have suggested on numerous occasions.

We’re glad Mr. Manager is finally taking the bull by the tail and facing the situation.  But he should heed the lesson learned by the soon departing councilor.  Sometimes, when you mess around with pies, you can end up with egg on your face.


As for the TM and those who subscribe to his public assurances, including our betters on the council, we’d like to advise them to get their orders in early for Humble Pies.  We expect there to be quite a run next spring during town budget season.


There could be a run on cream pies as well.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Other Side taken hostage by Brunswick Taxi & Amtrak personnel; escapes with help of MLF construction team (Wed AM revision)

- Brunswick PD called to apprehend; Side narrowly escapes arrest

- Legal options under consideration; wise counsel being sought

Today was “interesting.”  In the fullest sense of that word, which can express a very wide range of meanings.  “Hmmm…that dip has a really interesting combination of flavors.”  Or, “that’s the most interesting preparation of squirrel I’ve ever tasted.”

We recall the “breathtaking” episode of Seinfeld; if that’s not in your personal TV archive, describing it here won’t help.


Our story is simple.  We were coming across town roughly at mid-day, and decided to head to an office on Parker’s Way, just off Church Road, adjacent to the railroad tracks.  As Chance would have it, a Downeaster train set was parked on the tracks just east of the Church Road crossing, where it normally spends about five hours a day between ‘revenue runs.’

As we drove by the train, it appeared to be running at a fairly high idle rate.  We understood this situation had been mitigated by the installation of an Auxiliary Power connection that would allow the train to shut down in the warmer months.  Since the idle didn’t seem any different from what we were used to in the past, we decided to see if the train was connected to the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU.)

We couldn’t see through the trees and bushes on Parker Way, so we headed back out to Church Road to see what we could see.  The dirt/gravel access road that runs adjacent to the north side of the tracks beckoned to us.  Seeing no signage telling us to stay out, we turned on to it, headed east from Church Road.    

Within a hundred yards or so, we encountered a Brunswick Taxi van, license plate “JT-1”, that we recognized from previous visits to the area.  The van was apparently waiting to collect an Amtrak crew from the incoming train that they would transport to Portland.  As best we know, Brunswick Taxi, owned by the King family (the long time town council chair), and beneficiary of a quarter million dollar grant from local taxpayers, has a contract to make this round trip twice a day 365 days of the year.


The van was positioned in such a way as to make it difficult to get by to move further along so the connections to the Amtrak locomotive could be observed.  Still, we made it by the van, and proceeded east, until we saw that the engine was indeed connected to the APU.  This made us wonder why the unit was still operating at a high idle, but what do we know?  We’re not the government; we’re just a private citizen.  Sometime we just don’t recognize the help we’re being given by our benefactors.

Having seen the connection, we decided to turn around and leave via Church Road.  But in the brief time we had been further east, the Brunswick Taxi van had moved adjacent to one of the recently installed power poles, positioning itself such that we could not get by, out to Church Road, and on our way.

It was clear they were trying to block our egress from the site.  To make the blockage look unintentional, one of the Amtrak crew members stood outside the van, engaged in an animated cell phone conversation.  After a few minutes of this, we began to surmise what was going on.  Still, tolerant as we are. we waited a few more minutes for the urgent cell phone business to complete.

Which didn’t happen.  But in a few minutes, the rear hatch of the Brunswick Taxi van opened, and we noticed the flash of a cell phone camera taking photos of us in our vehicle.  This confirmed that we were in some sort of standoff.  We exited our trapped vehicle and approached the van, and the Amtrak crew member (we assumed) approached us.  We asked what the problem was, and if he could have the van move a car length or two so we could get out.  He explained that they needed “five minutes” to pick up another crew member.

Fine, we thought.  Then he hopped aboard the Cabbage Car and disappeared.  We pondered our options, and decided to approach the van to ask the driver to move ahead so that we could get by.  The driver, a young lady of 35 or so, said she could not move the van, because “I’m supposed to be RIGHT HERE.”  We said ‘you mean you can’t be 20 ft further this way or that way,’ and she said no. 

Long story short, she had decided to, or been directed to block our exit and be obstinate about it.  We asked her name, and she said she didn’t have to answer.  We asked what required her to be in that exact location, and she said they had a contract.  We asked with whom, like Amtrak, and she declined to answer that as well.  In other words, she had to be right there “because.”

It was now abundantly clear they had orders, via cell phone conversation, to block us from leaving the property, no matter how much it delayed the crew’s return to Portland.  We have little doubt that Brunswick’s most notable FU alumnus was involved in this decision.

In so many words, Side had been taken hostage and held against our will by the Brunswick Taxi driver and her accomplices from the Amtrak crew.

We returned to our vehicle, and resolved never again to head out on the town without our digital camera and archaic flip phone.  As we pondered our options, a huge shiny black pickup truck approached from behind us.  The driver got out of  the truck, came up to us, and asked what was going on.  We gave him the facts we just related.

Turns out he was wearing a polo shirt with a Consigli logo on it, and he explained that he was involved in constructing the MLF on the site.  He also stated that what the Brunswick Taxi unit was doing was unsat, and that he would see that it was taken care of.  And then he advised that we could do a 180, and head in the  other direction to leave the site, which we did, coming out on Turner Street.

This gentleman put himself on the line, at least figuratively speaking, to free us from our forced confinement.  We’re grateful to him for that.  Then, things got even more interesting.  Or if you have a warped sense of humor (and Brunswick civic reality) like ours, more humorous.


Amused by the episode, and wondering what would happen from all the phone calls that were made by Amtrak and Brunswick Taxi personnel, we headed back to Side’s editorial offices.   We have a local craftsman doing some work on our facility, and chatted with him about what had just happened.  As we did, a Brunswick PD vehicle approached.

We raised our hands in surrender, yelling ‘don’t shoot, we did it.’  The officer got out of his car, and gave us the news we had already guessed he would.  A report had been filed on us, and the BPD was obligated to conduct a follow-up investigation.  We’re grateful they didn’t employ the full assault vehicle, since you never know what you might encounter out here in the boonies.   The kids across the street would have loved it, though.

          BPD SRT Truck2

We had a lengthy conversation about what had transpired, and about the vagaries of  railroad ownership, management, and operation, and what the BPD was obligated to do about it all.  He acknowledged there were no signs on the property we had visited, warning journalists like us from sniffing out a good story, but indicated he expected such signs, fences, etc, would soon be appearing on the site.

We asked if he knew who we were, and he said ‘no, but we have someone at the station who can look into if for you if you can’t figure it out.’  All they’d need, he said is fingerprints and a full frontal photo, but only if we were willing.  And then they could assign a new member of the force to sniff out our real identity.  As soon as he’s sufficiently “trained.”


We thought it over for a few moments, and decided we’d just as soon not have to face the truth of who we are.  With that, the Officer thanked us for our cooperation, and headed out to find the next least wanted scofflaw in Cape Brunswick.


Sleep well, dear friends; justice has been done.  Now, if they could just find the Brunswick Taxi driver who was recently seen trying to forge a new approach road to the trackside area, things could get even better.

As we’ve said before, sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.

And other times, you can try to prove you’re the King of the Road.  Using taxpayer funded vehicles if you have to.

Anybody have a clue how the FU football team is doing this season?  We think we might have seen their traditional hand salute coming from the van as we ended our visit with them.


One last mystery – we wonder how much overtime the Amtrak crew got for the ‘extenuating workplace circumstances’ we forced upon them.  A phone call of thanks would be nice, but probably not in the offing.  Don’t they know ‘who we are?’

They could always call the BPD to find out.  They have that number, we’re sure.  It’s Nine-FU salute-FU salute.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Immutable Laws: dropping the other shoe….


We told you yesterday we’d be following up on our “Immutable Laws” post soon.  We lied; we’re not going to do that.


Just kidding!  As the old saying goes, ‘if you can’t take a joke….’  Gray and murky as it was outside when we began this post, we thought maybe you could use a chuckle.  Or a reason to chuck, as the case may be.

Our inspiration for this commentary can be found in the agenda for the Brunswick Town Council Meeting this coming Monday, September 21st.

LT Dover, Benjamin Alert


The first item is this:


Turns out we’d forgotten about a prior post on this very issue going back to January of last year; it popped up when we went in search of Ben Dover’s avatar.  Here is where you can find it:

It begins with these inspired words:

It’s been some time since we’ve heard from LT Dover, Benjamin, a young member of our staff who we casually refer to as LT Ben Dover.                          

Which, now that we get into the subject, is taking us down a rat-hole, so you’ll have to bare with us.  Turns out we have some personal experience, and detailed data, on ‘reappraisal and revaluation.’ 


And we still have occasional nightmares in which a well known former town councilor pats herself and her colleagues on the back for “lowering the town’s tax-rate.”

The data that matters here is shown in the ‘snip’ below, taken from a spread sheet of municipal budget records we maintain.  It details the last time we had a ‘reappraisal and revaluation.’  Let us guide you through it.


To begin with, the fourth column is the fiscal year involved.  The first column is the property tax revenue, and the column next to it is the % increase compared to the prior year.  Ignore the 3rd column, and the 5th, through 10th columns as well; they have only to do with our analysis for statistical purposes beyond our interest today.

The next to last column is the tax rate set for that fiscal year. and the last column is the change in rate compared to the prior year.


As you can see, in FY 00/01, the tax rate declined by 11.3%, allowing all concerned to jump up and down jubilantly because of ‘the huge decrease in the mil-rate’ in Brunswick.  None-the-less, property tax revenue that year increased by 4.9%, or nearly $1 million.  Funny how that works; we’ll get to that in a moment.

In the next year, the tax rate went up by 9%, and tax revenue increased by 9.2%, or nearly $2 million.  Property tax revenue increases by app. $1 million per year in the next few years.

As a side note, for the truly curious, the oldest data we have is for FY 87/88, when property tax revenue was in the $10 million range.  We don’t have actual tax rate figures back that far, but it was probably in the $12 to $13 dollar range (per thousand.)  Today, that rate stands at $28.36.

For the FY 15/16 tax year, the property tax revenue is nearly $39 million.  So if you lived in your house in the late 80’s, your new property tax bill is most likely nearly four times what it was then.  Oh well; government spending happens!  Get over it.

Which calls for a brief homily on the insidious nature of the municipal property tax.  Let’s summarize it as follows:

1)  The property tax is predatory because it is adjustable rate.  The mil-rate is set anew each year by municipal authorities in order to meet their obligation to balance budget accounts.

2)  “Living within their means” is simply not part of the process.  No one in authority asks how much revenue came in last year and then figures out how to limit spending to that amount this year.  In fact, the reverse happens; they decide how much they want to spend this year, and then adjust the mil-rate to yield that amount, irrespective of what either figure was in the prior year.

3)  The property tax system is likely understood by no more than a small minority (10% tops?) of those who pay the bills.  Valuation, mil-rate, equalization, assessment ratio, etc, are all esoteric terms that obscure the harsh realities.  Add to this that many pay it indirectly through their rent, and that many homeowners have it impounded as part of their mortgage payments, and you have a situation ripe for obfuscation and budgetary abuse.  As we’ve said many times before, you can govern or you can spend, and the latter view prevails overwhelmingly.

4)  The system provides all concerned with plausible deniability.  The council says all they do is approve the budget, not the tax rate.  The assessor says all they do is ensure compliance with state law regarding valuation ratios.  The finance department says it’s their job to set the tax rate to yield the required revenue from the established valuation.  See?  No single person or entity is responsible for the unending increases in our property tax bills, or even worse, accountable!

Regardless of all the mumbo-jumbo from Johnny Protocols and his colleagues on the council both present and past, the only thing that matters (other than compliance with state law) is your personal property tax bill and its year to year change.  That’s where the “truth talks and the rhetoric walks,” to borrow a common phrase.

We can tell you this.  Ours has reliably increased year over year, no matter what else is going on.  Never ever have we been told that we were paying ‘more than our fair share’ while others were paying ‘less of their fair share.’  All the feel good rhetoric of rationalization emanating from the council table is so much poppycock and codswallop.

Everything they do, when you come right down to it, has only to do with spending more and taxing more.  We defy anyone to prove otherwise. 

And trust us, this round of ‘we’re just doing what we’re required to do’ has the only constant, real purpose, and nothing else: to yield more revenue to spend while making it difficult to understand how that could have happened.  Every act of government has that as its primary objective.

You can call that a cynical view.  But cynicism is simply judgment born of experience.  If the council wants to disabuse us, and you, of this notion, their approval of a revaluation project will require that it be property tax revenue neutral in the first year of the new values, and that revenue increase by no more than say…..2%….in each of the five years that follow.

Which calls to mind the image of snowballs in hell.  None-the-less, when you go to the council meeting tomorrow night, get up and challenge them to do what we suggest in order to show a good faith commitment to protecting our interests.  Let us know how that works out for you.

To add to the humor of this situation, wel cite this report from The Ostrich in their September 10th front page article:

The town last had a revaluation in 2000.  According to assessor Cathy Jamison, the town’s assessment ration is at 70% for the 2015 tax year and many properties are selling at 60 percent of fair market value or lower.  She noted the ratios show there is a lot of inequity among different types of properties.

Read that underlined passage carefully; there are two choices here.  First, that the assessor has no idea of what she actually said, or second, that the reporter blew it and her editor has no clue on tax and market value realities.  Likely, both are true.  And then this follows:

“An equalization project is the reappraisal of all real estate to bring about uniformity in property valuations,” Jamison wrote.  “The purpose is to value all properties by the same standard so that each property owner is paying only their fair share of the cost of essential community services.

Anytime a government official talks about “fair share,” you should be afraid, very afraid.  When they add “essential community services” on top of that, head for safe refuge.

Looking at our personal property tax history, we’re more than confident that we’re paying not ONLY our “fair share,” but far more.  And don’t even get us started on “essential community services.”  Both subjects could merit a blog of their own, given their psycho-babble, subjective character.


It seems fitting and appropriate to end this part of our discussion with a quote on the subject from Johnny Protocols, the presumptive next state senator for Brunswick, as he climbs his way back to the Governor’s office.  That right there says a lot about how “we” govern ourselves, as if we needed any more to improve our outlook.

“There’s all the reasons in the world to do this as one of our top priorities,” John  Richardson, councilor at large, said. He stressed that a lot has changed in the past 15 years: coastal and rural property taxes have increased, and in-town and commercial property tax has gone down.

“In town property tax has gone down?”  What exactly is Johnny smoking, or drinking, or both?

The second item is this:



So that ‘new High School’ of ours, now 20 years old, is starting to crumble.  Better start the planning for a new one now!  And raising the money!  Somebody call Lyndon “Kaching Kaching” Keck at PDT, and have him start working up a plan!


From the same Ostrich column on September 10:

Paul Caron, the facilities director for Brunswick School Department, said the low bid process, in his opinion, isn’t as effective as finding a reputable contractor to design a system that will work for the department.

Ponder those words; who decides, and by what objective rules and procedure, who is a ‘reputable contractor,’ and what will ‘work for the department?’  The same guy that let the roof on Jordon Acres fail, and the floors and toilets in Coffin and BHS fall into terrible dis-repair?  You want us to trust HIM?  AYFKM?

Then, let’s put some scale to this.  Let’s say you could do a first class, bang up job replacing and upgrading the ‘boiler and domestic hot water system’ in your house for $10,000.  Sounds like a pretty comfortable figure, don’t you think?

That means the boiler and domestic hot water system in 57 houses could be done for the amount they want to spend to do the same at BHS.  We’d like to believe that doing all the work in one location would lead to economies of scale at BHS, but then, we can be so unrealistic.

57 houses!  How much of Meadowbrook would that encompass?  Yeah, we know, we’re just another anti-tax, anti-government extremist.

That aside, we believe at the very least, a detailed bid package and contractor response should be made available for public review before proceeding on this initiative.  There are any number of residents here in town that can quickly and astutely review and assess such a proposal.

We can’t wait to hear what they might say.  Sure; $575,000 is only $30 or so per town resident, so why make such a big deal?


Because sooner or later, and every now and then, the right thing should be done.

That’s why. 

No matter how many feathers it ruffles, and on whom.  It’s time for you to get mad as hell, and let your betters know it.