The City That Just Won’t Quit

The spring was a little depressing, with both Rumorz and J.C. Penney announcing they would be closing. It hits hard when two faces on Main Street, one a new upstart and the other an old standard, move on. It had me back on my heels a bit, though Berlin is accustomed to such setbacks.

Today, however, I did the downtown tour, and I got to see another half-dozen reasons why Berlin with eventually survive. Three of them will be in next week’s paper, I hope, so I won’t ruin them, but suffice it to say they are there. One is the impending opening of Tea Birds. The paper is off the windows now, and it’s clear the owners have done a ton of work to get the building up to speed. Soon that’ll be one more busy storefront on Main Street.

WREN is moving into the old Gill Building, where SaVoir Flare is now, and they are moving to the larger space next door. That’s one more window filled and one taking up more real estate.

I keep hearing about “green shoots” in reference to the economic downturn. It may even apply to Berlin. For so long this region felt left behind by the economic success of the rest of the state and the country; now it may be catching up.

There are significant challenges still, however. City councilor Mark Evans showed me a letter from a realtor who said many of the people looking to move to the region for the federal prison were looking at property in surrounding communities. But if Berlin can sprout success in this economic climate, what will it do once millions of federal payroll dollars are headed its way?

The challenge now is to address the short-term budget problems the city faces to build a foundation for long-term success. Prison employees choose Berlin if the schools and housing prices are good. One of those variables is secure — there is certainly inexpensive property in Berlin. The other, however, is in a tough spot, and the budget guidelines set by the council may hurt the city more than help it.

No one wants to lay off 10 teachers. Every councilor knows that’s 10 good citizens the city risks loosing. But more importantly, those ten teachers hurt the student/teacher ratio and reduces the city’s appeal as a place to move. The short-term gain of a $1 million in reductions may result in a long-term loss if it keeps federal employees from settling here.

Every councilor needs to weigh these factors carefully. While they disagree on one project or another, they all agree they want Berlin to succeed. They also all agree that the city’s taxes are too high. Efforts to cut taxes in the short run, however, can raise them over the long-term. In the flurry to keep people here today it is important not to alienate those who might be here tomorrow.

But city government isn’t the city. I can’t imagine the city ever failing because the strength of conviction of its residents. Berlin pride will remain, I imagine, long after these discussions have been forgotten. Main Street is resurgent regardless of city officials, not because of them. The city, in many ways, just needs to stay out of the way. It’s amazing to see these efforts, which have kept the city moving despite decades of disappointing setbacks. It is convincing evidence that the city won’t ever quit. I am happy to sit by and watch to see what it can become.

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4 thoughts on “The City That Just Won’t Quit

  1. Eric,

    I think it is very telling when the School Board says that 10 teachers can be eliminated and the Berlin schools will still meet the State requirements with respect to class room size.

    Once again you are missing the point. The economy (local, state & national) is in the tank and you cannot keep raising taxes on working class people just to continue to fund a government that is running out of control at all levels. Everybody needs to sacrafice, including those who are working for the tax payer.

    I think you may also be missing another important point. Perhaps if the teacher’s union were to sacrifice contracted pay raises or give up some health care benefits then the layoff wouldn’t be necessary. If you ask the union about this idea they’d probably laugh at you because unions in this country have lost all touch with reality.

    I don’t mean to be harsh because it is unfortunate for those 10 families affected by the layoffs but the private sector has been shedding a much larger number of jobs for a much longer time. Not even those working for the government can be shielded from this pain forever.

  2. I have to wonder that if union contracts are “sacrificed” in any way by doing anything to the contract, that it might negate the value of the union contract or lead the teacher down the path of a union breakdown. If that is the case, teacher sacrifices that seem slight may be a huge decision they wished they never made.

    This is a tough subject.

    This city is clearly looking out for today’s number of students and not so much for the students in the near future. With the influx of 300 professionals due to arrive next year with the federal prison, each household bringing with it two children, it seems shortsighted not to be looking at this from another angle where cuts are made elsewhere. With education being one of the main issues a family chooses to locate in a given area, it seems we could be shooting ourselves in the foot with hundreds of professionals we could have had as a captive audience, relocating elsewhere due to educational issues. Ultimately, the more people we attract to the city’s tax base, the more taxpayers we have to offset the tax bill, and to more people we have spending money locally to pay our taxes.

  3. Jon,

    The prison professionals won’t want to move to Berlin with a biomass plant in the downtown area. You can thank the great Paul Grenier for that mistake. Come on, would you buy a house in Berlin with a noisy industrial plant downtown or would you opt for a nice house in Gorham, Shelburne, Randolf, etc.? It is a no brainer. Again, you can thank your short sighted mayor for that. He’s a real piece of work.

  4. Normally I’d agree with you Berliner on that point, however, my experience has been that a number of our state correctional officers chose the convenience of Berlin to the outskirts. Additionally I strongly believe at this point that the odds are significantly against a downtown biomass plant. Laidlaw is just too shaky, and the SEC has been made well aware of their history both past and current.

    Additionally, though you may think the inventory of suitable housing may be high at the moment, the truth of the matter is that most housing in the areas you speak of is priced too high for these federal workers as most will be starting here as a one income family and at an age where their salary levels are not of high ranking officers. The spouse won’t necessarily be able to find a job immediately yet many of these folks will be bringing two car payments and other obligations along with them. Their debt to income ratios will not allow for the purchase of an averaged price home surpassing $150 K on the outskirts. Berlin is poised to attract these folks by the availability of reasonably priced properties provided they are in move in condition.

    Ironically, if we see hundreds of federal workers coming to the area looking for affordable housing in good repair, our “good supply” of reasonably priced housing may not be enough, just as our schools may be short staffed.

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