City Council has more-important things to do than fight fossil fuels, by John McGauley

Again, the Keene City Council feels that running a second-tier city in a backwater state isn’t worthy enough for them. They have much more important things to tend to than bringing some desperately needed industry to town and reducing the crushing real estate tax that’s depopulating the place.

What’s more important?

Virtue-signalling. Peacocking. Chest-puffing sanctimony.

For those who haven’t been paying attention for the past months, what’s grinding up an inordinate amount of the council’s time is ridding the city of fossil fuels. This after they slavishly applauded themselves last year by eating up time concocting resolutions taking politically correct positions on sanctuary cities and voter registration.

We have an energy problem, alright, but it’s the low-voltage leadership in the city.

The council just passed a resolution assigning city staff to come up with a plan by 2020 to have the city become totally fossil-fuel free by 2050. Only one council member voted against it: Bob Sutherland, who’s consistently voted against the council’s numerous grandstanding pirouettes.

I’ll bet anyone that within a short time this resolution will evolve into hiring a consulting firm to the tune of $100,000 to $200,000 of taxpayer money before 2020. Just wait. It’s standard operating procedure in Keene. I would not doubt for a second that somewhere within some city office is an already-prepared RFP (request for proposal) that was written well before the resolution passed and which will be issued shortly.

For what it’s worth, the council should have also passed a resolution preventing this planet from tilting on its axis. No doubt there’s a consulting firm that could help us with that, too.

I’ve written this before: There are only two issues the city council, city manager and mayor should be concentrating upon — reducing city expenditures to ease outlandish real estate taxes, and enticing industry and business to migrate here. If those two priorities aren’t addressed, every other issue is moot. Who’s going to care what energy is used in the city by 2050 when most of us residents, and most of the present council, will probably be dead and we’ve lost half our population?

The council members themselves have said the same thing, that jobs and taxes are what matters. Well, that’s what they said when they wanted your vote. But something got lost in translation.

Readers of The Sentinel may recall that the newspaper publishes Q&As asking candidates for the council to tell voters their thoughts, and why they deserve their support.

Unfortunately, I don’t think many readers pay attention to these public-service interviews printed by the paper.

But I do. And I searched the Web for their past statements when they were auditioning for their jobs. These are excerpts embedded in answers to the question of what are the most important issues facing the city:

Steve Hooper: “Yes, Keene taxes are too high … I would suggest that each city department look at ways to trim their budgets …”

Mitch Greenwald: “Expand the tax base: It is critical that we continue to expand our tax base and attract new jobs.”

Carl Jacobs: “The problem is we need to grow our tax base by attracting businesses and homeowners.”

David Richards: “The way that we uplift everyone is to continue to have responsible and forward-thinking economic development.”

Thomas Powers: “The key challenge is the rising tax rate.”

Randy Filiault: “Put simply, yes, Keene’s taxes are too high.”

Bart Sapeta: “Since 2007, the tax rate portion of the City has increased 40 percent .... However, the population stayed unchanged, the number of roads to maintain has not increased, and the building stock only improved marginally.”

Gary Lamoureux: “If the City could entice business to relocate or start here this would help with adding an overall taxable base to the community.”

I won’t quote Bob Sutherland because he consistently says this, before election and after. The other council members didn’t place taxes or business development high on their list of priorities facing the city, and indicated that they’d lend their support, at least in resolution form, to state, national and international issues that might come before the council. Fair enough; they’re consistent. Environmental matters were mentioned a few times in these Q&As, but not anything, from any candidate, about the city actually becoming fossil fuel free.

Nobody has done a damn thing to bring any new industry here, nobody’s hit the phones to call prospective companies with a sales pitch about our city. Nobody’s gone to a convention with a kiosk, hustling for prospective employers. We don’t even have a billboard up anywhere telling people we exist. Nobody’s developed our airport. Nobody is teaming up with Winchester, Swanzey and Hinsdale, which at least have figured out the first step is jointly teaming up to get some jobs. If we get any new business in Keene, it’s by accident. There’s no Plan A, B or C in case any of our 10 largest private employers pull up stakes.

Nothing’s been done to reduce city expenditures. Nothing. Prove me wrong.

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful, ironic fantasy if the fossil-fuel behemoth Exxon/Mobil approached the city about locating a major corporate office here — not refineries, mind you, but executives — with the implication that it would reduce our property taxes by 20 percent and provide a couple thousand jobs? Would the council tell them no because they’re part of the evil fossil-fuel cabal? Would they say we’d rather have a hundred more non-taxed, nonprofits, all with solar panels?

Of course, what wannabe officeholders say and what they end up doing are often at odds. Voters have short memories.

But let’s occasionally hoist them by their own petards — the words they’ve written.

John McGauley, an author and local radio talk-show host, writes from Keene. He can be reached at mcgauleyink@gmail.com

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