Thursday, October 22, 2009

Last Night's Mayoral Debate

If you weren't able to be there last night, it's worth watching. Daily News coverage is here and Mary Baker Eaton's blog post is here.

The schedule on Channel 9 is as follows:

10/22/2009 at 5:00 PM

10/23/2009 at 12:00 PM

10/24/2009 at 4:00 PM

10/27/2009 at 8:00 AM

10/30/2009 at 4:00 PM

Topics discussed were:



Hotel/Meals Tax

Single Tax Rate

Senior Center

State Budget

Economic Development

Industrial Park

Wind Turbine

Green Communities


Local Historic District

Attracting Business to Newburyport

Impediments to Economic Development

Education and Superintendent

Chairing School Committee

City Council and School Committee




Civil Service

"Proven Leadership"

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mayoral Debates

Mayoral Debate tonight (Wed, October 22) at 7pm at the High School.

Then next week

October 8, 2009

For Immediate Release


Beth Simkins

Nock Middle School PTO President

978 549 7912

Ideas on Education: The Candidates’ Views

Public Debate and Q&A on October 28

NEWBURYPORT, MA--The Nock PTO will host an education-focused debate/Q&A session for Newburyport’s two mayoral candidates on October 28 at 7 p.m. at the Nock Middle School auditorium. The event is open to the public.

The Newburyport school system and educational funding is a hot topic for many residents and this venue will give candidates Donna Holaday and James Shanley an opportunity to express their individual philosophies, ideas and experiences on school issues. The audience will also earn more about what concerns the Newburyport community in the area of education.

“Whether you are a parent, life-long resident, or business owner, we all need to understand how our next mayor will handle issues around our schools,” said Beth Simkins, Nock PTO President. “This will be an objective, unbiased event open to the entire community.”

Questions will be pulled randomly the night of the event and read by a moderator. Each candidate will have equal time to provide their answer to each question. To submit a question, email or mail them to Nock PTO Mayoral Debate, 70 Low Street, Newburyport, MA 01950. All questions will be read anonymously.


The Nock PTO is a not-for-profit group whose focus is providing the Nock parent, teacher and student an enhanced educational environment. For more information on PTO activities, contact Beth Simkins at 978 549 7912;

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Investing in Our Community and Decreasing Our Overreliance on Property Tax

One of the arguments I'm hearing against the LOCAL meals tax of .75% is that Newburyport residents eat at local restaurants.

I never said Newburyport residents don't eat downtown. What I did say on my blog:
"Much of the cost of the proposed meals tax will be paid by non-residents and virtually the entire hotel tax will be paid by non-residents. Because these excise taxes are small in nature – a $100 restaurant bill will be increased by 75 cents and a $200 B&B overnight will be increased $4 -- these incremental changes are not likely to have an impact on attracting tourists and diners to Newburyport."

So as you can see, I said that 'MUCH' of the cost would be covered by non-residents: I didn't say "most" and I didn't say "all".

I know Newburyport people go out to eat--I'm one of them. In the last month, we've been to many of them: Michaels (couple of times), Black Cow, Park Lunch (couple of times), Angie's, Upper Crust, Famous Pizza, Mission Oak Grill (hey, it was our anniversary).

I estimate that annually in Newburyport $37,000,000 (yes, that's $37 Million) is spent on restaurant meals. In Amesbury, roughly the same size in population as Newburyport, restaurants do about $13 Million in business. You could argue perhaps that people in Newburyport like to go out to eat more or have the ability to go out to eat more. I would argue that tourism explains a significant part of the difference.

Last night in the Grog parking lot, there were license plates from NH (3x) and New York, the rest Massachusetts. I was tempted to hector the New Yorkers about the Yankees but I kept quiet. Hopefully, the New Hampshire people will continue to come back if we raise the meals tax by .75% which would still be less than the New Hampshire meals tax of 9%.

I'm proposing a .75% tax to be kept LOCALLY. Not 75%, not 7.5%.

The state meals tax went up on August 1 by 1.25% to 6.25%. None of that 1.25% increase nor the original 5% goes directly to the community in which it was raised. In fact, 1% goes directly to the MBTA as it has for many years.

True, some of the current State meals tax (and sales tax and income tax) comes back indirectly to Newburyport but it's in arcane local aid and education funding formulas.

The data I'm relying on is from That data assumes implementation from October 2009-June 2010 as 32 communities have done.

This local option is a way to diversify our overreliance on property tax as a way to fund local services.

When your average tourist (and I'm pro-tourist by the way) visits Newburyport their dollars support our local businesses and restaurants. Visitors enjoy our historic and natural environment. They leave nothing behind to fix our sidewalks, support our schools, or lower our property taxes.

I think the money from a slight increase in a local meals tax ought to be targeted on a few specific local benefits. What if the money could encourage more people to downtown, what if sidewalks could be improved, what if our parks could be improved, what if we could increase the elderly exemption for senior homeowners? What if we put the money into a capital improvement fund for needed infrastructure repair? The needs are great and the local resources at our disposal are stretched thin.

This is hardly a radical notion that will kill Newburyport restaurants-- it's a rational move taken by Boston, Brookline, Somerville, Cambridge and many other smaller communities and it's even higher in New Hampshire and Maine.

I spoke to a restaurant owner last week who said that an increase in the amount I'm proposing would not impact business.

I wanted to raise these issues now so that they can be discussed prior to the election. I'd encourage you all to contact your City Councilors or attend the City Council meeting and make your opinions known.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Local Excise Taxes

I think this is an important discussion for voters and elected officials. I welcome your thoughts on whether Newburyport should have a local meals tax of 0.75% and increase the lodging tax from 4 to 6%. As I've been saying, I would not want these funds to go into the General Fund but rather should be targeted to a few specific City priorities.

Discussion and debate are alive and well in the comment section of the Daily News....

Thank you, Ed Cameron

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Orders on Civil Service and Local Excise Taxes

This is background information on three orders which are on the Council agenda for the Tuesday, October 13 City Council meeting at 7:30PM at City Hall.

1) Civil Service

The first order would exempt the positions of Police Marshal and Fire Chief in the City of Newburyport from provisions of civil service law of Chapter Thirty-one of the Massachusetts General Laws. The civil service status of the persons currently in the positions of Police Marshal and Fire Chief would not be impaired; the change would take effect when these positions are next vacant. This is common practice in other municipalities which have pulled these positions out of civil service.

Without the constraints of the civil service laws for these two important positions, the City can select from a much broader and diverse group of candidates, which certainly increases the City’s ability to hire the best candidate for the position. For the Marshal position, the October 2001 Newburyport Police Management review recommended this change be adopted by the Council. As I've told the current Marshal and Chief, I'm proposing this change to put the City on the best footing possible going into the future and the proposed order is not a reflection on my perception of their performance. I appreciate their professionalism in protecting our public safety.

Other communities have made this change:




If approved by our Council, the State Legislature would need to pass a Home Rule Petition to enact this change.

2) Local Meals Tax

The second order concerns whether Newburyport should impose a local meals excise of 0.75%. Recently, the State increased the state meals tax from 5% to 6.25% and gave municipalities the option of adding an additional 0.75% which would stay in the community.

The following 32 communities have adopted a local meals tax effective October 1st, 2009:

































3) Local Hotel Tax

The third order concerns whether Newburyport should amend its local room occupancy excise from 4% to 6%.

Taken together, the adoption of the local meals tax and the amending of the local hotel tax would be a step to diversifying the City’s revenue stream. Make no mistake about it--these are tax increases. But what is important to note is that now - with the Governor and Legislature approving these changes effective this Fiscal Year - the locally generated revenue stays here in town rather than go into State coffers. So we in Newburyport decide how we want to spend it.

Many cities and states have higher meals and hotel tax rates. For example, the state of New Hampshire recently increased its meals tax to 9% with no local option. The state of Rhode Island has a meals tax of 7% with a local option of 1%. Vermont is 9% and Maine will be increasing to 8.5%.

Much of the cost of the proposed meals tax will be paid by non-residents and virtually the entire hotel tax will be paid by non-residents. Because these excise taxes are small in nature – a $100 restaurant bill will be increased by 75 cents and a $200 B&B overnight will be increased $4 -- these incremental changes are not likely to have an impact on attracting tourists and diners to Newburyport.

The impact on residents will be real but this additional recurring revenue will help achieve important City priorities that will benefit residents and local business. Estimated annualized meals tax revenue for Newburyport, according to DOR, would be $282,658. Estimated hotel tax revenue with a 2% increase could be on the order of $30,000.

My recommendation to my fellow Councillors is that this additional revenue be targeted to specific City priorities rather than directed into the General Fund. For example, funds could be directed to downtown improvements including park, parking, and transportation; funds could be directed to neighborhood street and sidewalk repair; funds could be used to increase property tax exemptions for seniors or funds could be directed to specific education priorities.

Information from MA DOR on the administrative steps necessary to enact these changes is here

Public input on these matters will be important as the Council discusses these issues.


Councillor Ed Cameron