In the Arena: President Trump already announces bid for 2020 election

Friday, March 02, 2018

Like many Americans, I keep wondering when President Donald Trump is going to stop campaigning and start governing.

At this point, that answer appears to be never.

Trump announced this week that he plans to seek a second term in 2020, which historians say is the earliest a chief executive has called his shot on another four years.

I suppose it makes some sort of sense. Trump clearly loves being on the stump surrounded by his base, which I’m guessing is a whole lot more fun than being in the “Oval” these days. And while it may allow him to slip back into his comfort zone, it sure doesn’t do much for the people he purports to represent.

There are many times when a president — assuming he’s doing the job properly — will have to make tough decisions, which may be in the country’s best interests but not in his, politically. Announcing now all but guarantees that every move Trump makes will be filtered through an electoral prism, instead of in the greater good of the republic.

It also gives the nation no respite from the presidential campaign cycle. The joke always was that the journey to the White House starts earlier and earlier, but that line usually gets dropped a year to 18 months out. Now it’s three years, which pretty much guarantees that most of us, even hardcore political junkies, are going to be completely burned out when the second Tuesday in November of 2020 rolls around.

This assumes, of course, that “The Donald” is able to stay in office until then, which may not be a safe bet, given the number of legal and political fronts on which he is being forced to fight these days.

Greenfield rates ‘clarified’

As anyone who has opened their bills knows by now, Greenfield water and sewer rates have risen by between 10 and 15 percent this year, with additional hikes expected mid-year and beyond.

The person taking the brunt of the abuse for these increases is Greenfield Mayor Bill Martin, who, to quote a John F. Kennedy line, is the “responsible officer of the government,” but he may not be the only one.

Greenfield DPW Director Don Ouellette told the city council this past week that the state has also mandated that Greenfield sharply increase its rates, which he says are 25 to 35 percent lower than pretty much everywhere in the Commonwealth.

“When we went to set the tax rate, the Department of Revenue told us we have a water and sewer account which is losing money, and we aren’t going to set your tax rate until you increase those (water and sewer) rates,” Ouellette said.

Ouellette said the 10 to 15 percent number was suggested by the state to account for what he says have been several years of rates that have remained static, while just about every other fixed cost in town has gone.

“In a sense, we were held hostage (by the state), but we should have been,” Ouellette said. “There’s nothing magical once you come into Greenfield that allows you to keep your rates that artificially low.”

So why were they for all those years? I suspect the answer lies with Ouellette’s boss, who held the line on rates for the same reason his colleagues on the city council tried to go with a split-tax rate late last year — to ease the burden on residential property owners.

Martin knows all too well the financial struggles of his constituents, and has made a lot of political hay by holding the line on certain costs. But if Ouellette is correct, Martin may have set Greenfield up for a lot more than just large future rate increases.

“The only way you can keep rates as low as we have is by not doing the preventative maintenance we should have been,” Ouellette said.

And that “to-do list” is both extensive, and likely expensive.

“We have three sewer pumping stations (that) should have been done 10 years ago,” Ouellette said. “We replaced one and when we pulled one out of the ground, it collapsed because it was that far gone.”

It only gets worse from there.

“You have pipes under the ground that are 30 years old, and you are lucky to get 20 years from those,” he said. “You’ve got five miles of it, and that’s roughly $1 million a mile (to replace), and it needs to be done.”

That’s going to be a tough nut to cover, even with rate increases, and especially when you have city councilors who don’t buy the argument that rates are currently too low.

“I get discouraged when I hear that,” Precinct 3 Councilor Brickett Allis said. “It’s not a bad thing to be charging less. That only happens when the money is being dispersed in a way that could be handled differently.”

If Ouellette’s analysis is correct, the issue will not be about how money is dispersed, but how to secure enough of it to address what sounds like a multi-million-dollar problem lurking beneath Greenfield’s streets.

Chris Collins is a former staff reporter for the Recorder, and is a Greenfield native. Over the years he has continued to keep his eye on local politics from a variety of perches for different news outlets.