Monday, March 17, 2008

Economic Development

Recently this Middletown committee along with the C of Commerce, & Rep. Kennedy (coordinated with the Mayforth Group- our town's development directors) hosted a Contractors' Conference. Over 350 attended the conference & surpassed everyone's goals. In other words, projected Navy bulding projects attracted hungry contractors, union leaders, & subcontractors.

If you had any doubt about tough times around here- this provided a real eye opener. I see an auction of real estate sponsored by two large local agencies (with reserve prices withheld). It's been at least ?15 yrs. since I've seen this happening. My husband has a graph. In 1989 real estate (for the state as a whole) reached a peak. It then dived for the next 5 yrs. It then went into slow recovery until reached the previous high in 2000. That means a 10 yr. downward turn. In 2000 in soared upward until 2006. Then downward once again. Anyone who is projecting a short downturn in real estate in this area, must have their fingers crossed. Talk about a bubble bursting is premature- it's more like a steady, slow leak.

While our District's meal/hotel tax revenues hold steady, one may well ask for how long? We live in a service economy. Retail has been suffering here for quite awhile, including anything tied in with a tourist economy. And while those revenues are holding steady, that could simply reflect of higher prices or increased locations. The hoteliers (inc. b& b's) & restauranteurs I'm hearing from are hurting. Long-times businesses located here, not just Newport, are closing. Economists are predicting the worst recession in 20 yrs.

While your home is decreasing in value, don't expect your taxes to go down. Good deal out there for renters, though. The multi-family home market (inc. duplexes) is practically dead and has been for awhile (worse than the declining condo market). Schools are laying off teachers & they do not return (12 expected in Middletown, more in Tiv). Newport is seeing an onslaught of retirements this yr. due to their contract expiration. So probably no lay-offs there.

The town has submitted Congressional appropriations paperwork for Aquid, Corp. Park improvements & Woods Hole funding (storm water issues at First Beach). But not to hold your breath. The wars are sucking up most funding & earmarks are scarce. There is also the plan to provide some federal funding for the exploration of a much-needed regional water processing plant. Great idea, expensive, and fraught with potential problems (Raytheon vs. Portsmouth housing development). Evidently, you can't have both. Too good an idea, though, to let it pass us by.

Cast-off properties from the Navy seem to be in the offing, but please, fair-market value bids only. They need bucks. Now is the time to zone any of these areas so that they are not attractive to outside buyers. The former Navy Lodge is now zoned recreation & it should stay that way. Re-zoning can be done afterwards. The other M'town location is the old piers.

Councilman DiPalma tried once again to gain backing for a legislative bill to regain local monies from the Newport Tourism board & once again was shot-down. This is where politicking can play a role. If you can't convince your own constituency, let alone the board & business owners to support this, what's the point? What might actually work is having legislation amended to return local monies here rather than the Prov. convention center (7%). Maybe then we could lobby for more local funding to local budgets.

While a contract was approved for the new police station in Middletown, one might ask why there was a plus difference of 2 mil in expected costs (figured ? 2 yrs. ago). Besides the price of copper, what's changed? A heckuva difference, to be sure. While we are assured it won't add to the tax rate, the money to build still comes out of our pockets. With the selling of GMH's assets to a British-based corp., this could drastically affect the expected payments-in-lieu of taxes deal which is supposed to help build the new police station. And let's not forget the projected new fire station (which we never voted on, b-t-w, but thought we were). The payments may well have just evaporated. It's a wait-and-see deal. Expect to hear more on this. Charter-change talk may well be forced to take a back seat.

Which reminds me, I have not yet heard one complaint voiced on the Guv's budget to towns/cities, school dept. And what ever happened to the promised re-vamping of the school aid formula? Sh-h-h-. This was an improtant component of the state's forced reduction of local property taxes.

There are residents hurting out there. Even local, private naval contractors are noticing a dearth of monies out there. And if you aren't one of those hurting, remember the adage about New England weather- wait a minute. And watch those tax/motgagee sales & dropping real estate prices. Beats playing the lottery (perhaps).
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