Saturday, December 29, 2007

Auburnguide on vacation

Just a note that the town's website has been down now for several days.

I guess it wouldn't be a big deal but... with the billpaying online and all those bills due by the end of the year, it's possible many folks are getting caught by this. I'm sure the answer will be "well you can always come up to the town hall and pay in person". Just like the olden days ... yeah right.

This is yet another in a long line of issues with our web presence I have concerns about.

We deserve better for an entity with an annual budget of almost $50M ... of OUR tax money we pay by law! If this were a company we, the VCs or capital providers would fire every manager in charge at this point. Think about it next May ....

Friday, December 28, 2007

Sturbridge blog

sheesh - he's not holding back is he

Ski Vermont burger

Some ski areas in Vermont are selling a locally produced (Vermont cows) burger dubbed the Ski Vermont burger. It's become fairly popular - so much so it sold out recently. Okemo, Bolton Valley, Stowe and Jay are some of the places selling them.

Great idea and apparently very popular. Here's an idea - how about a "Auburn" store that sells local products like Coopers milk etc? I guess Gift Chalet has a local section for those painted AUburn buildings, then there's Farmer's Daughter. We need to promote local stuff like this in a positive way.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry Christmas all

I hope everyone enjoys Christmas, Hanukkah and whatever other holiday you celebrate here in our town and wherever you go.

We had a great service Christmas Eve with lots of music and singing up at Bethel. That really means Christmas to me. Well that and the big Christmas Eve family gathering we always have with plenty of Glögg and smörgåsbord.

btw - there's 12 days ya know - it's not over! ;)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Health care consumer issues blog

A little plug for a blogspot I found recently - MAEHC blogspot.

Here's a good post about standardizing and making market-based approaches improve the quality of our health care by measuring performance

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A China free Christmas

Just thought I'd add to the Communist China toycott with a few more pointers - some websites created to combat the flood of cheap but dangerous Chinese toys (80% by last count) and support makers of safe toys, many made here in the US.

According to this story, many Chinese children are now getting safer foreign made toys, why not join them and do the same?

No toys made in china
China-free Christmas
500 not made in China
Boycott made in China
1000 toys made in US and Europe

Storm stories

It took me about 2 hours to get from Lowell where I work to Leominster to pick up my car at the mechanic. What a nightmare. I carpool and my partner who drives a CRV with parttime 4WD has no snow tires. He was forced to drive around 10-15 MPH because of this. The AWD helps handling but not braking.

From Leominster to here was around 40 minutes! Not bad. Then again I have an AWD Audi with snow tires. The car is a tank in the snow (in a good way). I was passing cars, snow plows and all without IMO driving like a maniac. I do have some experience in high performance drivers ed however (been to the track etc) so I kind of do know what I'm doing. Since I'm a skier I have a fair amount of experience driving in snow too and a good driving record.

Anyway, I thought overall the plowing in the state and on the interstates was horrible. There were a lack of plows on the road, bad vis and too many folks on the road with their "all season radials" which are near useless on a snow covered road. I actually saw and passed two slow moving plows on 190 blocking traffic with their plows up! There was a horrendous snowbank in the 190/290 merge which almost hung me up but I managed to power through. Once I got on 290 in Worcester, where they had actually plowed, things were fine.

The question is, why wasn't Mass Highway plowing?! I can't understand it. They needed to be out earlier.

However in our town, I found the roads in very good shape! One exception were certain parts of Oxford st. But actually my road and most side roads were OK. Kudos to the beleaguered highway department for getting out there and clearing our roads better than Mass Highway on 190, Rt 2 and 495!

A bit of advice for drivers - we live at 600 feet above sealevel in a bit of a snowbelt. Buy some snow tires. I don't care if you have FWD. It's actually worse IMO than RWD with snows because you have a dead axle and the car will plow once you lose traction with the bad tires. Even with AWD that won't help you brake. Get snows! Either that or stay off the roads during a storm. Otherwise we wind up with what we had the other day - triple or more commutes.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Auburn budget woes for next year?

It looks like we'll have a 400K+ shortfall next year if things pan out like projections.

One thing that jumps out is 13% increase in health care payments for town employees (current and past).

Contributing to the anticipated increase in spending are 2.5 percent raises for town employees; a 13.26 percent increase in the town’s share of the health premiums for 621 current and retired town employees; interest for a loan needed to pay for capital or major equipment purchases; and higher fuel costs.

This is something that we have to pay attention to going forward, particularly when negotiating new contracts. Everyone wants a good deal but they've been giving away the farm on this one. Unless and until these costs come under control the town cannot afford to continue to foot the bill on rising premiums.

Also of note - the cost of the library appears to be closer to $16M according to the Auburn News, mostly because the process took so long. This happened with the high school also. It's a situation where the longer you put some of this off, the more it will cost. If the town wants to do this project they need to act on it. Otherwise, it should be downsized to something more affordable before it comes in like another school buildings project. For instance, do we know about the potential asbestos in the old structure like the high school? On the other side of it, if we really do need it let's get it done and going so things don't balloon out of control.

On the positive side, our Rep Paul Frost is trying to get us about $1M from the stabilization fund for next year. If that happens all of this is moot. OTOH, other things can change in budgets (for instance receipts and state aid go up and down) so stay tuned and watch your wallets!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Buying Christmas toys made in America has an article on which toys to buy made here in the good ole US of A.

It's something to think about with all the Communist Chinese lead painted toys popping up these days. I know one of the first items on my list is a lead paint test kit from Home Depot. Figure I'll test em right on the shelf before I plop down hard earned Benjies for some Commy made imported lead toy ;). I plan to bring up the subject of buying toys from USA to the Mall and Toys R Us too. Safety is of tantamount importance when buying toys so choosing a trusted source country for manufacture is important.

Here's a few companies mentioned:

American Plastic Toys
Fat Brain Toys
Kazoo Toys
Nick and Zoe toys
Isis Maternity

A couple more:

Nice maple wooden block set
Train table from Step 2, who have a selection of made in USA toys.
Inside plastic Doorway playhouse again from Step 2.

Finally, if you like European made toys, the Gift Chalet has many products from Scandinavia and they're right here in town.

A few other pointers for lead and toy safety from Consumer reports - 5 things for avoiding lead contamination

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Taxes going down ... just not here

Article in the Globe claims the average household tax bill in Boston is going down this year thanks to a hot commercial property market. It demonstrates the value of a healthy commercial tax base.

The decreases are in sharp contrast to annual property tax increases in recent years. Between 2002 and 2007, the bill for the average single-family house skyrocketed 78 percent, or $1,351.

"I think it's great news. We've got a lot of people who are just getting killed by taxes," said Dr. Francisco Trilla, medical director at Atreva Health Care in Jamaica Plain, which serves many elderly city residents and young families. "You've really got to look at the most vulnerable populations and those are the people who are really going to benefit from this."

The good fortune of Boston homeowners is not being played out across the state, however. The vast majority of cities and towns that have set their tax rates so far are imposing increases to keep local services functioning.

State Department of Revenue records show that property tax bills for single-family homes are increasing in 48 of 54 cities and towns for which 2008 tax rates are set. Those bills are going up an average of $193.

The difference in Boston is that commercial development continues to boom. That is creating a deep well of new tax dollars that is coming to the aid of residential property owners. Even though residential property values are falling, city officials do not need to increase residential tax rates.