SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

July 5, 2013

Benton: Missing the Fourth on the North Shore

Nelson Benton
The Salem News

---- — Made the move from the North Shore to Arizona a year ago this Fourth of July and, thus, once again missed traditional festivities including the Danvers fireworks spectacular, the always-amusing Salem Willows Horribles parade and grand finale at Derby Wharf. Here a pall continues to hang over the state as a result of the death of the brave 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who died fighting the Yarnell blaze.

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This week, fellow columnist Barbara Anderson noted that it’s been 37 years since Proposition 21/2 became law in the commonwealth.

Bay Staters ought to be grateful for the measure, which limits how much cities and towns can increase property taxes from one year to the next. They should also appreciate the fact that responsibility for that assessment lies solely with their elected boards of selectmen or city councils.

Here in the Grand Canyon State, there are a multitude of entities, many of which operate with virtually no public scrutiny, that can levy property taxes; and cities and towns have the option of assessing their own sales tax — on top of the state’s — to raise revenue. It’s a system ripe for abuse.

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Few were amused recently when the Peabody City Council was forced to cancel a regular meeting for lack of a quorum. The missing members might have received less grief had they not just voted themselves a raise.

Back in February, councilors decided to piggyback a raise of their own on top of a long-overdue salary increase for the mayor. Their pay went from $7,466 to $9,450 a year, which is on top of the $1,800 they receive annually for expenses, and the health and pension benefits for which they are eligible. (One of the few smart things the Arizona Legislature did this year was to remove all newly elected officials from the state pension system. They will instead be made eligible for a 401(k) plan that is the norm in much of the private sector these days.)

Ward 2 Councilor Arthur Athas told reporter Alan Burke that his absence was due to a long-planned family trip. Since he was the only missing member facing serious opposition this fall, perhaps he should have checked with his colleagues to make sure a sufficient number planned to attend so the council could conduct its scheduled business. This was embarrassing for sure.

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Also embarrassing: Councilors Paul Prevey and Todd Siegel’s votes against the reappointment of three Salem Board of Health members the other night with nary a word of explanation as to why.

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Congressman John Tierney didn’t waste any time inviting newly confirmed U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker to Cape Ann to hear the concerns of fishermen about NOAA-imposed catch limits.

According to Tierney, “ Our fishing community is still waiting for the disaster assistance it deserves, and to see real reform to the system that will allow for the flexibility essential to the industry’s survival. While we continue to press our colleagues in Congress for change, I hope new leadership at the Department of Commerce will allow for stronger administrative action and stronger joint efforts to achieve the reform needed.”

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Beverly Mayor William Scanlon has not yet said which candidate he would like to see take over for him in the corner office next January. But longtime Scanlon campaign aide Joyce McMahon’s “like” of aspirant Wes Slate’s Facebook page may be the next best thing to an endorsement.