Monday, February 27, 2006

The Barn

Boy... have I been hearing it about this one lately. Certainly doesn't seem as though people are really happy about this. And I can understand why. Not only is the idea to spend $400,000 to fix an "historic" barn (I was told it was built in 1938... and that was attributed to about the most reliable source you could imagine.), but to first spend $30,000 on a consultant. I can't imagine the argument that persuades me to support that kind of spending on this barn. I think we've still got improvements we could make to the pool. And from what I understand, we've got major issues with the heating equipment in our schools.

Furthermore, it's probably an argument that is going to be hard-pressed to find serious support on the Council. But that's strictly a guess on my part. Anyone out in the blogosphere agree or disagree with me?

In fairness though, I think this may have been driven by town staff who were simply trying to take initiative. And I appreciate that. But I also appreciate the Council playing its role and saying "No. This is not a priority."

Tim White
Town Council, 4th District

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

"Alternative Fuel" Station

We should consider changing the zoning regulations to permit a gas station, but not just any gas station. We should think outside the box and consider allowing a regular gas station that would also be required to have “alternative fuel” offerings, such as biodiesel, electricity, ethanol, hydrogen or natural gas. This could address a whole host of concerns, such as minimizing taxes, improving our quality of life, protecting the environment, improving our national security, improving Cheshire's image within the business community, minimizing the price of gas at the pump, improving our health and maybe a real go-getter could make some money off of this.

How would Cheshire residents benefit?

1) We could minimize taxes. Besides the increase to the grand list, with an alternative fuel station readily accessible here in Cheshire, the time (and cost) involved may be right for the town government (including schools) to expedite our transition away from fossil fuels and away from our dependency on foreign oil. (Town hall did buy a hybrid last year. So we’ve already started.) Perhaps we could convert our school buses to use alternative fuels. Or perhaps we could save money by receiving grant money to purchase new buses. ( Just this month (Feb 06) Tucson AZ received a $493,000 grant to purchase Compressed NG school buses. And right here in the Nutmeg state, Old Lyme and Fairfield received grant money ( to clean up their buses. Grant money is available. We just need to look for it.

2) We could
improve our quality of life. With a gas station easily accessible from the highway, many commuters may save some time that would be better spent with their families.

3) We could help protect the environment. For example “Natural gas is one of the cleanest burning alternative fuels available and offers a number of advantages over gasoline.”
( (By the way, I do recognize that this would be near the aquifer. But I think it best to first start this discussion, then bring in the experts, rather than just avoiding the discussion entirely.)

4) We could help improve our national security (albeit in a small way). Our dependence on foreign oil is inarguably linked to our national security and what occurs in the Middle East. (84% of America's natural gas is derived from within our borders. ( And the balance is basically from Canada. Biofuel is what I believe President Bush meant when he said we could make gas from grass. No doubt, we could make quite a bit of this domestically. (

5) We could improve our business climate through showing our support for the much-rumored natural gas pumping station project by having an alternative fuel station, or specifically a Natural Gas (NG) station. (According to some, Cheshire is on the verge of adding a long-awaited natural gas pumping station. And with the continued proliferation of NG stations (or other alternative fuel stations), I suspect that people will begin considering purchasing cars that run on alternative fuels. In fact, according to NREL we’ve already got CNG stations in Meriden and Waterbury ( at each end of I-691 and other alternative fuel stations around the area. And we've got several biofuel stations nearby as well (

6) We could help minimize gas prices. Gas prices are sky-high, but with every car that uses an alternative fuel, we reduce the demand for gas. In turn, the price of gas will go down.

7) We could help improve our health through reduced emissions. (

But that's from the perspective of the taxpayer. The other question is...

Does it make good business sense? I’m not sure, but here are some reasons why it may make sense:

1) Alternative fuel stations offer significant tax incentives
(, see "Biodiesel/Alternative Fuels")

2) There is technical & advisory help available for such stations

If we are going to consider rezoning to allow alternative uses in the northend, we should think outside the box and consider opportunities such as this.

Tim White
Town Council, 4th District

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Hybrid Cars

For the past few months, I’ve been thinking about getting a new car (I have a ’96 Camry w/ 155k miles and I bought the Toyota for reliability… age does reliability no favors). And considering how much I hem’n’haw about energy conservation and alternate forms of energy, I got to thinking about buying a hybrid. I figure for all my talk, I ought to walk the walk.

So I recently put down a deposit on a hybrid… a Civic hybrid. But even after I decided to spend the few extra thousand dollars ($16k vs $22k), I hesitated. Either amount is a good chunk of change for me. And it just seemed that adding the whole hybrid component complicated things. But I mentioned it to a do-good-friend of mine who ended up helping me make the decision to go for a hybrid and the Civic, in particular.

Why spend the extra $6k? Was it just a feel good thing? In part, but the investment should pay off in the long run. The analysis was fairly simple. I looked at the lowest life cycle cost, not the lowest first cost and the tax benefits. That is, with a

1) $2100 federal tax credit (
2) $1000 state sales tax exemption on hybrids that get over 40mpg ( ($16k x 6% = $1000) and
3) $2000 savings in gas (about an extra 10mpg) over five years(

I felt it wouldn’t cost anymore for the hybrid. And I may end up saving some money after the first five years. Having done my homework, the answer was pretty easy.

And if you read all the way to the end of this post, I hope you’ll now consider buying a hybrid. I believe the President was right to begin addressing America’s dependency on foreign oil in his recent State of the Union address. And buying a hybrid is one small way that you can do your part to help move America away from that dependency.

Tim White
Town Council, 4th District

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Improving Communication

I woke up this morning and went through my usual routine of checking the local newspapers' online editions. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the Cheshire article in the Meriden paper. The topic was improving communication. ( And that's precisely what I was thinking about last night.

On January 24, the Council supported a resolution that institutionalized a working relationship between the Energy Commission and the Public Building Commission. I haven’t seen this motion mentioned in any of the local press (PLEASE SEE BELOW) and believe I understand why. It doesn’t have much immediate impact. But down the road, I believe this small motion could have significant benefits for the town.

The motion was simple. The working relationship between the Energy Commission and the PBC has been less-than-wonderful. For that reason, the Council needed to act to institutionalize a working relationship. Hopefully the Council will not need to formally act in a similar capacity with the commissions mentioned in today’s Meriden newspaper.

As I mentioned during the council discussion on this topic, I don’t think it really makes a difference if it’s a working relationship between two government agencies or an interpersonal relationship between two individuals, just about all of us could benefit from taking a bit of time to thoughtfully consider how we can better communicate. Too often, difficulties arise in all sorts of relationships because of a communication breakdown that could have been avoided.

Tim White
Town Council, 4th District

Whoops... I spoke too soon. I have to give props to the crack reporter from The Cheshire Herald, Kristen Malinowski. She did pick up on this story. Thanks Kristen.

Monday, February 06, 2006

BOE should do more

The Board of Education abdicated its responsibility to the taxpayers when it voted to support the school budget without any substantive changes. It did nothing more than move one item from the operating budget to the capital budget and reduced a few numbers that are based on estimates.

The taxpayers deserve more from the Board, but never seem to get it. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a Republican or Democratic majority. No one ever seems to review the budget. If they had reviewed the budget, they would know that they could eliminate wasteful spending in a number of ways, such as:

1) CONSERVING ENERGY – The Board could open only one school in the evening for use by community groups. This could save on both the energy bill, as well as the cost to staff the buildings while they’re being used; and

2) REMOVING THE FLUFF - Line items could be removed from the budget. Some budget line items are never used, such as:
A/c 330 (Research & Development)
A/c 430 (non-contract cleaning)
A/c 590 (storage services / microfiche services)
A/c 610 (K-12 computers)

For the three most recently completed fiscal years (02/03, 03/04 & 04/05), the “research & development” budget was $7,000 each year. Yet it spent only $2,756 of the $21,000 three-year total. “Non-contract cleaning” was $15,000 each year. Yet it spent only $938 of the $45,000. “K-12 computers” was $8,000 each year, but used only $1,474 of the $24,000 total. And then there’s “storage services / microfiche services.” It’s had $5,000 in the budget each year, yet has spent a grand total of $0 (zero). Those four line items have had budgets of $35,000 annually, yet have required only $2,000 each year. This year, those four line items total $43,500. Perhaps the Board could cut another $40,000 from the budget and still cover all our costs? Or maybe we could hire another teacher?

But some may argue that cutting (the fluff out of) the budget is not the responsibility of the Board of Education. Perhaps instead, the Board should consider acting responsibly by requesting an increase for the budget. If spending money today means saving money tomorrow, shouldn’t they consider a spending increase today that will save taxpayer money in the long run? Shouldn’t they consider any option that helps focus dollars on putting teachers and textbooks in the classroom?

Back in September, during a BOE Planning Committee meeting, I suggested the BOE invest in energy efficient items. I suggested the Board request money from the Council for energy efficiency improvement projects. Even before CL&P’s 22% rate hike, oftentimes the payback on such projects was four to five years (the same holds true for your household, if you’re trying to save money at home). However, no funding request has come to the Council from the Board. The Board does not seem interested in finding ways to save money.

These are just some of the areas in which the Board could find real savings. But instead, they cut the pension plan funding – the height of irresponsibility. Haven’t the recent lessons of Ford and GM taught us anything?

There are many other savings opportunities that people have suggested to me, such as with estimates of number of teacher retirements and healthcare costs. But those are a bit more complicated to explain. My intention here is to simply show the Board of Education could, and should, being doing more with the school budget.

Tim White
Town Council, Budget Committee