About Don

You Should have High Expectations for your State Representative!

“Fairness” per Merriam—Webster: “fair or impartial treatment: lack of favoritism toward one side or another.”

I think that focusing on fairness to all affected parties can help us find common ground to start a conversation. I’m running because it’s time for our representatives at every level of government to listen and fully understand NH citizens’ wants, needs, and ideas. How else can we solve problems with common sense solutions that are equally fair to all parties? Please have very high expectations for my job performance. I won't let you down.

I need your help to better understand what matters most to you. Please take a minute to sign up for my email list and to participate in this week's survey. Both are available on this site's Home page, and will help us have a conversation both before and after the November 3rd election.

Who Am I?

I’m the oldest son of a railroad conductor and a dental hygienist. I grew up in the New England town where the “shot heard ‘round the world” triggered the American Revolution. For six years beginning at age five, I walked to school each day past the flagpole on the Lexington Battle Green that reads “Birthplace of American Liberty”. The concepts of freedom and fairness are ingrained deeply in my DNA. Would there have been a revolution if the colonists were being treated fairly? Freedom with fairness is what has made America the greatest country on the planet.

My wife and I have been happily married for over 45 years. We are both public school graduates with 4-year college degrees. She taught in several New England public schools before staying home to raise our children. She later helped create and manage our “mom and pop” small businesses and also created and managed a nationally-accredited preschool to serve our small town. I have a BS in Engineering from Tufts and an MBA from Rensselaer. We have three adult children and have been loving grandparenting for the past 12 years.

I currently work on the management teams of two NH small businesses: One sells and services standby residential and commercial power generators; The other is a cabinetry and wood furniture manufacturing company. Our two companies have already created dozens of well-paying Made-in-America year-round jobs and as the businesses grow, we will add more.

My Career

I spent the first 14 years of my career in corporate America, first as an engineer in the nuclear power industry, and later as a strategic business planner and as a project finance “in-house entrepreneur”. It took me a while to notice the many limitations on freedom that come with life in a large company but I eventually walked away from the job security, benefits, and guaranteed weekly pay checks and started a small business that made some people question my sanity.

In our mid-30’s with three young children, we "bet the farm" to help convince our local bank to lend us two million dollars to build an indoor swimming complex for our small town. A large group of residents had been lobbying for a taxpayer-funded facility for years. We believed that to be fair to that 75% of taxpayers who might never use it, only its users should pay for its construction and operating costs.

We dug a deep financial hole over the first three years before reaching breakeven cash flow. But throughout our 14 years of ownership it was 100% user-funded. Instead of siphoning from taxpayers, it paid $30K of property taxes annually to the town and also paid sales and income taxes to the state and federal governments. We eventually sold it to the YMCA. They invested an additional $9M to expand the complex to a full “Y” facility with a gym, health club, and other amenities. Thirty three years later, it remains a huge asset and source of pride to the small town and the region.

Deep Roots in Sunapee

I first skied Mt. Sunapee in the 1950’s when a single-seat chairlift carried skiers to the then-top of the mountain – North Peak. Youth lift tickets were $3.50 for the day (adults $5.00) and it wasn’t unusual to wait an hour in the lift line for a ride. My knees prefer cross country skiing these days but if you want to love NH winters, just get out in the snow and embrace it.

My wife jokes that we’ve never lived in a fully-completed house and she has a point. That’s the hazard of being DIY-ers. We've renovated and/or expanded every place we've called home for the past 45 years. Most took more than a decade to complete one evening or weekend at a time. My wife and each of our kids became experts at different trades (carpentry, wiring, plumbing, painting, etc.) and they each became engineers and small business owners.

We’ve been Sunapee taxpayers for 31 years since buying our first Sunapee "fixer upper" on Perkins Pond in 1989. We've owned our current Sunapee home for twenty six years and are about 95% finished completing the latest renovation begun in 2007.

 

“Fixing Up” Local Government

When my wife and I first got interested in local politics, we started learning the ropes by listening to those in charge. For more than two years, one or both of us attended every Sunapee Board of Selectmen and every School Board meeting. We also attended as many other Sunapee public meetings as we could – Library Trustees, Planning Board, Zoning, Recreation, “Old Town Hall”, Budget Advisory Commission, Water and Sewer, and others. We were shocked to discover how often we were joined by fewer than three others from “the public”. Often we were the only ones  in the audience. We attended more meetings during those two years than at least two of the Selectmen and two School Board members attended their own board meetings. We also noticed that with the exception of Selectman John Augustine, board members almost never attended other board’s meetings to get the “big picture”.

Eventually I was appointed by the Board of Selectmen to Sunapee’s Budget Advisory Committee. A year and a half later I was elected its chairman. It was an independent group of five very capable volunteers, all private citizens with experience in business and finance. We thoroughly reviewed the Selectmen’s and School Board’s proposed budgets each year. Our objective was to help develop budget proposals that would balance fairness among of all stakeholders, including town and school employees, students, and taxpayers.

In early 2016, the Selectmen disbanded the BAC and replaced it with the ABC – a much larger group dominated by town and school employees who discuss and approve their own budgets. Were Sunapee citizens better off when their voices were heard by the independent BAC before the boards stopped listening? I think so, but I look forward to hearing your opinion.

Petitioned Warrant Articles

Fortunately there are other ways for citizens’ voices to be heard. Croydon may be a small town but its people’s voices have certainly been heard in recent years as its School Choice victory affected all of NH and made ripples across the United States. More recently, its police department controversy has again sparked conversations and raised eyebrows across the nation.

In Sunapee, petitioned warrant articles have proven to be very effective. Two years ago on the March ballot a petitioned article asked “Should the contract negotiations between the Sunapee Teachers Association (i.e., the teacher’s union) and the Sunapee school board be conducted in public session so that both the teachers and the taxpayers can observe how their interests are being represented?" Much to the School Board's surprise, voters said “yes” by a 65% to 35% margin -- a nearly 2 to 1 margin that included many school employees voting "yes". Sadly, the School Board chose to ignore the mandate and contract negotiations later that year were held in total secrecy. Was that fair to teachers, students, taxpayers, and voters? I think all would have been better served by a public discussion the merits of those on both sides of this issue and finding common ground such as agreeing to hold some of the negotiations in public.

This March (2020) the School Board proposed an expensive construction project to replace Sunapee's aging elementary school and asked voters to approve "Article 3", a $25.6M bond to finance the new school. A petitioned warrant article (Article 8) asked voters, “If Article 3 doesn’t pass, should the Sunapee School Board create a committee including representatives of all stakeholders (e.g. students, staff, taxpayers) to investigate alternatives to new school construction such as moving grades K thru 5 to the current Middle/High School building and offering students in grades 9 thru 12 School Choice to attend the high school that best meets each student’s needs and interests?”

On voting day, in the privacy of the voting booth, fewer than 50% said “yes” to Article 3 – falling far short of the required 60% majority for bond approval. At the same time by a resounding 58% to 42% margin voters provided a firm “yes” with their Article 8 votes. They wanted a conversation. Let’s look at affordable alternatives including School Choice. Croydon offers School Choice to its high school students, why shouldn’t Sunapee?

By representing Sunapee and Croydon in the NH House, with your help, together we can find fair solutions to issues that will affect the future of Croydon, Sunapee, New Hampshire, and America.

sunapee croydon maps

Who are Sunapee and Croydon Voters?

Sunapee may include many miles of shoreline on one of America’s finest lakes, but you won’t find many Sunapee voters living in those lakefront properties. The vast majority are not full time Sunapee residents and therefore cannot register to vote in Sunapee. As it turns out, the voters in our two towns have a lot in common in many ways. Most of us live here for our towns’ incredible natural beauty and small town friendliness. Here’s a sampling of some of our similarities and differences:

Land and People Croydon Sunapee Total
Year Incorporated 1763 1781 -
Population (est. 2018) 759 3,475 4,234
Population – first year census taken in 1790 537 267 804
Land area 36.8 sq. miles 21.1 sq. miles 57.9 sq. miles
Inland water area 0.7 sq. miles 4.1 sq. miles 4.8 sq. miles
Population Density (persons / sq. mi. land) 20.6 164.9 73.1
Percent High School Graduate or higher (among population 25 yrs or older) 98.5% 98.5% -
Percent Bachelor’s degree or higher 17.0% 38.8% -
Median age (years) 38.7 42.9 -
Total Housing Units 456 2,539 2,995
Public Schools operated in-town K thru 4 K thru 12 -
Voters Registered Republicans (pct of town) 180 (34%) 912 (31%) 1,092 (31%)
Voters Registered Democrat 75 (14%) 577 (19%) 652 (19%)
Voters Registered Unaffiliated 281 (52%) 1,493 (50%) 1,774 (50%)
Total Registered Voters (pct of district) 536 (15%) 2,982 (85%) 3,518

 

Financial Croydon Sunapee Total
Total Property Valuation $88,732,962 $1,232,770,717 $1,321,503,679
Total Property Tax Burden (2019) $1,767,670 $19,757,857 $21,525,527
Total Property Rate per $1,000 (2019) $19.56 $15.93 -
Total Property Valuation $88,732,962 $1,232,770,717 $1,321,503,679
Total Property Tax Burden (2019) $1,767,670 $19,757,857 $21,525,527
Total Property Rate per $1,000 (2019) $19.56 $15.93 -
Avg Property Taxes Paid per Resident(2019) $2,329 $5,686 $5,084
Median Household Income (ACS 2014-2018) $74,038 $68,897 $69,680

Sources

  1. Town Profiles – NH Employment Security website: nhes.nh.gov
  2. Town of Sunapee 2019 Annual Reports for Town and School
  3. Revenue.NH.gov/mun-prop/municipal/documents/19-tax-rates
  4. Voter registration data from Town Clerks
  5. “ACS” = American Community Survey

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Which issues are important to you?

Use the links below to learn more about my thoughts on these important issues. I look forward to hearing your perspectives. I encourage to use the blog to start a conversation about the issues that are important to you!

don bettencourt
Email

Don@DonBettencourt.com

(802) 952-0362
(Don't be concerned about the 802 area code -- I've never lived in Vermont but NH has run out of 603's.)

Don Bettencourt for State Rep

Address

PO Box 608
Sunapee, NH 03782