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Smoke & Mirrors

Boy, what great news in the latest Durham Friday Updates . We are going to have a 2.2% decrease in the overall Property Tax Rate. Yahoo! In case you didn’t see it, here is the article:

I a very pleased to let you know that today we received the finalized 2015 tax rate from the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration. For the first time in many years, the full tax rate for Durham has gone down!

The new full rate is $29.85, a decrease of 2.2% compared to the 2014 rate of 30.52, a drop of $.67.

This decrease is a result in part of the town’s increased tax base due to new development and also a drop in the school portion of the rate due to higher than expected revenues there and in the county portion of the rate as well.

This is good news for the taxpayers of Durham. Kudos to the Durham Town Council, ORCSD, and Strafford County!

 I know better than to get too excited about the PR pieces in the Durham Friday Updates. My first inkling was the kudos given for raising the Town’s local tax rate. Then the flashbacks to my management accounting days reminded me that the devil is always in the detail.

First let’s see what happened to Durham’s Taxable Property Valuation basis (provided by the Town Office):

2014 2015 Increase % Increase
Taxable Property $916,456,045 $965,086,266 $48,630,221 5.31%

Nice increase in the taxable base, so what happened to the actual tax receipts (tax rate times taxable valuation) for 2014 compared to 2015:

Change in Jurisdictional Tax Receipts
2014 Tax 2015 Tax
Town $7,643,243 $8,183,932 $540,688 7.07%
County $2,630,229 $2,692,591 $62,362 2.37%
Local School $15,396,462 $15,634,398 $237,936 1.55%
State School $2,300,305 $2,296,905 -$3,399 -0.15%
Total $27,970,238 $28,807,825 $837,587 2.99%

Let me get this straight, we have a 2.2% decrease in the overall Tax Rates and a 3% increase in overall Tax Receipts and the Town Council receives Kudos for granting a 7.1% increase in gathering overall tax receipts from the Town’s taxpayers.

My, after building a Palace to their memory during 2014 and taxing us for numerous social agendas, that many, if not most of us, never use, and which have now been baked into the Town’s base budget, we find that we need 7.1% more to run this Town year over year!

The other thing that is obvious is that only the State School Tax Receipts were, in aggregate, less than the prior year. Given that projections are currently running around 0% for a Social Security benefit increase this coming new year it seems that Durham could have been a little less greedy.

If the Town Tax component had been held at the prior year’s rate, then the tax receipts increase would only be 5.3%. If the Town Council actually cared about tax payer welfare and held the 2015 budget to the amount of the 2014 budget, then we could have had a reduction in our Town Tax rate of 5% or $.42 for a rate of $7.92 for a decrease of over 4% in our total property tax rates.

The misdirection in the Friday Updates’ message focused you on the change in tax rates and not the implications of those rate changes on tax receipts. Below is a simple analysis that shows the effect of the changes in tax rates as well as the effect of the change in taxable valuations.

Property Tax Variance Analysis 1
Rate Variance Volume Variance 2015 vs. 2014
Town $128,304 $412,384 $540,688
County ($73,316) $135,678 $62,362
Local School ($549,874) $787,810 $237,936
State School ($119,139) $115,740 ($3,399)
Total ($614,026) $1,451,612 $837,587

You can put all the lipstick you want on a pig; it is still a pig.

Before you run down to our local Temple of Doom calling for the administrator’s head, consider that this tax receipt increase and therefore the decision to let Durham citizens suffer with all the congestion in the downtown area without any benefit from the increased taxable property valuations was orchestrated by your elected Town Council. I refer you to Durham’s Friday Updates from 24 October 2014:

The Durham Town Council established the following budget goal as part of its annual goal setting process, and this year’s budget proposal will be consistent with that goal: “Develop operating budgets that limit growth in the Town’s portion of property taxes by the rate of inflation plus new additions to the Town’s taxable base. This goal is for both the near and longer term.”

When you consider that the full taxable valuation impact of the downtown developments won’t be seen until 2016, buckle up. Gives new meaning to the old adage, never give a sucker an even break.

1 The rate variance was calculated by multiplying the change in rates from 2014 ($0.14) times the 2014 taxable property valuation. The volume variance was calculated by multiplying the 2015 Town Tax Rate ($8.48) times the 2015 taxable property valuation.
Posted in Durham | Leave a comment

Fall Harvest



Posted in Agriculture, Oyster River | Leave a comment

Inaugural Boule Season

© T20R11.com

© T20R11.com

You could cut the eager anticipation with a knife as the boule court is finally ready for play. The Provinçals call it pétanque, the Italians bocce, the British lawn bowling. But to those of us having observed the game played in Parisian parks, we know it as the adult drinking game.

© T20R11.com

© T20R11.com

With all the accessories assembled, ice, cold water and boules we head for the court. After a brief discussion and a pastis or two, we decided the smartest and most talented should begin. A hush came over the crowd as Allison pitched le but (cochonnet or jack) . . .

© T20R11.com

© T20R11.com

The competition proved experienced and aggressively attacked the court showing excellent form.



It was an auspicious beginning to the season, looking forward to additional competitors stepping up and challenging for the Durham Boule Championship Cup.

Posted in Durham, Oyster River | Leave a comment

Tomato Sauce

I like going into fall with 6 gallons of tomato sauce in the pantry. I add it to stews, I braise with it, make barbecue sauce, chili and, of course, I use it for pasta sauce among many other dishes. With the garden in full production right now I spend everyday harvesting drops and ripe paste tomatoes for the pot.

Tomato Sauce 001These are San Marzano paste tomatoes but I also grow Amish paste, Big Boys, Goliath, Sweet 100s and Sun Gold. When there are more ripe tomatoes than we can eat, they all end up in the pot at one time or another. I use mostly ripe tomatoes but I can’t let a good hard green one get away.

I used to peel the tomatoes and de-seed them before beginning the process of reducing to a thicker liquid consistency. A few years ago I read that the pulp mass surrounding the seeds has excellent flavor and so decided to try a different approach. Now, I simply cut the tomatoes into smaller wedges

Tomato Sauce 002and pitch them into a large pot. To get them boiling faster, I use a potato masher to free up some of the tomato liquids. I leave them to boil for a while, separating the skins from the meat and thickening the liquid.

Tomato Sauce 003In stead of using a moulis or similar device, I use a large tamis that nests nicely in a stainless steel bowl.

Tomato Sauce 004When the skins are soft and the pot simmering away, I scoop out some of the hot tomatoes and push them, using a bench scraper, through the tamis  into the pot below.

Tomato Sauce 005The tomatoes are hot and working in smaller batches saves your fingers from being scalded. The juice and meat go through the screen with the skins and seeds remaining behind.

After scooping out all of the tomatoes you are left with mostly liquid that you pour onto the tamis and will discover that many of the seeds separated during boiling.

Tomato Sauce 006

Once all of the tomatoes and remaining liquid are through the tamis make sure, using a clean bench scraper, to scrap the solid tomato remnants from the bottom side of the tamis.

Tomato Sauce 007You now have clean tomato juice, reduce by gently simmering on top of the stove. I use a 7 pint stock pot and fill it right to the top, after it has reduced 3 or 4 inches I will add the remainder of the tomato juice.

Tomato Sauce 008Once all the juice is in the pot and reduced to the desired consistency, I go until my wooden spoon stands straight up, you are ready to can.

Tomato Sauce 009This batch was 5 pints after processing. I sterilize the jars and lids in a 250° F. oven for 30 minutes. Then I fill a hot pint jar half way with simmering tomato sauce and add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice before filling the jar to the top with more tomato sauce. Newer hybrid tomatoes are not always as acidic as the heirloom breeds so I add the lemon juice as a precaution.

Once sealed and the ring tighten down on the lid, I process the filled pints in a 217° F. oven for 12 minutes.








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2015 Durham Farm Days

Believe it or not there really is much more to Durham than student housing and the Historic District. Saturday looks to be a great day, maybe too hot to work in the yard but just right to see some of Durham’s agricultural finest up close and personal.

Farm DayFarm Day Flier Hand Out 8 10 152

Posted in Agriculture, Durham | Leave a comment

Blackberry Season

No better way to begin blackberry season but with a small dish of blackberry sorbet garnished with blackberries and chocolate mint.

Blackberry Sorbet ©T20R11.com

Blackberry Sorbet

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BBQ Sauce by Region

From my good friends at The Sausage Maker:

“BBQ Sauce By Region

Barbeque sauce. There are so many kinds it can be a bit overwhelming to find the right sauce to compliment your dish. Of course, you can make your own. You can release your inner alchemist and stand over the pot making adding a little bit of this, taste it, add some of this or that until it has reached perfection. Of course, no one expects to slave over the stove making a sauce for your causal barbecue, unless you love it.

Throughout the southern United States there are many styles of barbeque and with each style comes its own sauce. The sauces used in the Carolinas are far different from the sauces used in Texas, and the sauces used in Texas are far different from those used in Alabama. With such a variety of sauces that range from incredibly simple to amazingly complex, it is no wonder why people love them so much.

With the amount of sauces there are for barbecue, we could go on for days and days explaining each one. So, we picked out our top five regions of the United States and picked our favorite style of sauce (or mop) from each. The following are our favorites, in no particular order.

South Carolina –  Mustard Sauce

In South Carolina there is usually a good chance that if you get barbecue, you’re going to get a mustard sauce slathered on top. The mustard based sauce is usually found in the areas around Charleston and Columbia. The sauce goes perfectly with pork, you can’t go wrong with mustard sauce on pork, it is to die for. Here is the recipe: http://goo.gl/T39gCA

Texas – Mop Sauce

This one is tough to describe, quickly. There is a ton of great barbecue in the Lone Star state, and one of the most popular outside of the state is the mop sauce. The mop sauce usually starts with drippings, seasonings, and ketchup. The sauce resembles a very thin tomato soup, and adds so much flavor to your barbeque.  Here is a recipe for a Texas mop sauce: http://goo.gl/OBiys

Memphis Dry Rub Ribs –  Vinegar Mop

Now, Memphis doesn’t have a sauce, per say. Down in Memphis there is a way of cooking succulent ribs with a rub and a mop that will knock your socks off. A mop sauce will make or break your BBQ, so using one correctly can make your BBQ so tender you’ll just want more. Memphis knows its stuff when it comes to barbecue, because of their wonderful dry rub ribs. These ribs are charcoal grilled, mopped with a vinegar sauce, and then crusted with a spice rub (of choice). There are plenty of ways to go about this, the vinegar sauce can be tweaked in many ways. Here is a link to a simple vinegar mop: http://goo.gl/bh2VfE and a link to a Memphis Dry Rub Rib Tutorial: http://goo.gl/1jJX9G

Kansas City – Tomato and Sugar Sauce

Kansas City is the birthplace of the tomato and sugar sauce. We can thank Heinz, K.C. Masterpiece, and the other bottled sauce brands that almost every American knows exclusively as barbecue sauce. Most of these sauces don’t represent the sauces served in Kansas City. The heavy tomato sauces coat the barbecue with its intense sweet and smoky flavor. Most of these sauces are prepared with molasses or brown sugar, with some vinegar, pepper, and other ingredients as the cook sees fit. Here is a recipe for a homemade heavy tomato sauce: http://goo.gl/QnlqDJ

Lexington Style BBQ Sauce

Vinegar sauce, the most basic of BBQ sauces. It is one of the easiest to make, and one of the easiest to customize. In Lexington, Kentucky this type of sauce is generally found. In Lexington it is generally a base vinegar sauce, then they add a bit of tomato paste or ketchup to thicken and sweeten the vinegar based “Dip.” Vinegar sauce is best served with whole hog or pork shoulder. The sweetness and smokiness of pork barbecue is perfectly complemented by the vinegar’s acidic tang. Here is a link to make your own vinegar sauce: http://goo.gl/AJLGms “

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Food Security

Lloyds the specialty insurance and reinsurance carrier commissioned an analysis of food security to assist them in determining various scenarios and their associated risks.   It is worth noting that the study wasn’t commissioned by a chemical firm looking to sell more fertilizer or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) but by an insurance carrier trying to determine underlying risk inherent in a potential set of events.

“The vulnerability of the global food system to sudden shocks, and the repercussions for communities, businesses and governments, is highlighted in a report published today by Lloyd’s, the specialist insurance and reinsurance market.

Supported by academics at Anglia Ruskin University, the report contains a scenario where disruptions such as weather catastrophes and plant pandemics – which are exacerbated by climate change – have far-reaching economic and humanitarian consequences.

Launched today at Expo Milano 2015, the study shows how three events – El Nino, the spread of windblown wheat rust in Russia and warmer temperatures in South America – could lead to wheat, maize, soybean and rice prices quadrupling, significant losses on European and US stock markets, food riots and wider political instability.

The key findings of the report are:

  • A combination of just three catastrophic weather events could lead to a 10% drop in global maize production, an 11% fall in soybean production, a 7% fall in wheat production and a 7% fall in rice production.
  • Wheat, maize and soybean prices could increase to quadruple the average levels experienced during the 20 years prior to the global food price shock of 2007/8. Rice prices could increase by 500%.
  • The scenario indicates this series of events has the potential to lead to food riots breaking out in urban areas across the Middle East, North Africa and Latin America, leading to wider political instability and having knock-on effects for a wide range of businesses.
  • While agriculture commodity stocks might benefit, the overall economic impact of high food prices, combined with rising political instability, could severely impact financial markets. The scenario indicates that the main European stock markets might lose 10% of their value and US stock markets 5%.”

Food security starts at home; plant a garden. Take unused urban space and plant crops to feed the neighborhood. Towns should be more proactive in utilizing Town owned land to improve the access to fresh produce, vacant manufacturing space can be converted to year round space for Farmers’ Markets, fruit trees can be planted in public parks . Instead of hoping for a brighter future, do something about it. Which weights more, a million mice or an elephant? The accumulation of little local steps can make a large impact.

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Beaucoup des Montgolfière

“Some 433 hot air balloons fly above eastern France on Sunday, breaking the record for the most simultaneous hot-air balloon flights. A variety of balloon designs, including a French chateau and cartoon character Obelix, lifted off from an airbase, covering a stretch of four miles across the sky.” From AFP as posted on The Guardian 27 July 2015:

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