Mayor Joyce Craig announced last week that a community meeting on the homeless in downtown Manchester will be held June 3 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Manchester Downtown hotel from 5-7 p.m., a discussion Ward 3 Alderman Tim Baines has been requesting for weeks.
If the comments made by local business owners during the public forum portion of last week’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting are any indication, they may want to consider booking a bigger venue.
Pat Mills, general manager of Bonfire Country Bar on Elm Street, said downtown businesses like his have been dealing with the issue for more than a year. He did not refer to the issue of “the homeless,” saying instead he knows them as “the spice people of Elm Street.”
“They’re not lining up at Labor Ready; these are the same people we can see over and over outside the windows of City Hall, over and over, every day, outside of Bunny’s. Summer time is here and they’re out there all the time.”
Mills said the city needs to empower the police to do something because “every single business” is being affected.
“We’ve seen the videos, I’ve taken the videos, of these guys spiced out and falling down,” Mills said.
Mills said 10 years ago customers didn’t have options like the Tap House in Hooksett, or the Copper Door or River Road Tavern in Bedford. If they were looking for fun restaurants and bars they had to come to Manchester.
“They have those options now,” Mills said. “They don’t have to come into the city. We’re losing business because of it. The homeless, the harassment ... nobody feels safe downtown because of it. We don’t want to become Times Square. Let’s work together. We can figure this out. These people don’t want the help, but we need to get them off the street.”
Jim Pliakos, owner of the Shaskeen Pub and Restaurant on Elm Street, talked about “the same six to 12 people that ... don’t want help.”
“They’re just causing problems, they’re doing drugs out in the open, it’s right across the street from City Hall,” Pliakos said. “If you don’t see it you aren’t looking. You go to any of the major cities in the U.S., I guarantee there’s not people, vagrants, asking for money, overdosing, falling asleep right across the street from City Hall. We’ve got to do something about this. This is Manchester, the largest city in the state. We need leadership. We can’t wait for a threat from the ACLU to make a decision.”
Andrew Thistle, owner of the new Cheddar & Rye on Hanover Street, said he is working to build a brand for his establishment, but is concerned over the growing foothold vagrants have downtown.
“I talk to six or seven customers every week who will not come downtown at nighttime, which as a bar is our prime time for getting people to come in,” Thistle said. “Over the past six months I have called the paramedics on 25 overdoses behind my building and in front of my building. I have watched a street-level drug dealer deal to eight people in a row outside my building while business was in session and I was inside with my daughter, who’s 9 months old.”
Thistle said he has found “used heroin needles, human defecation and vomit” he was forced to clean up, just over the past six months.
“There is a clear issue that we need to take care of,” Thistle said. “If it is not taken care of by the people with the power to do so, unfortunately the sentiment on the streets is that the business owners and people who exist downtown will have to take care of it ourselves, and that is a bigger problem than the ACLU or any problem you guys would experience doing it the legal way.”
“I have put my entire life savings into the business that I opened, and if I lose that then I’m on the streets,” Thistle said. “I will not let someone else who just can’t be stopped doing their thing put me on the streets to end up in the same situation. We are speaking in voices of desperation to get this problem fixed.”
Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschmann has had it with the growing problem of graffiti downtown and elsewhere in the city.
Hirschmann went before the Aldermanic Committee on Public Safety, Health and Traffic last week with a proposal upping the fine for anyone caught defacing public or private property in the city from $50 per offense to $1,000 per offense.
“I want to go with the higher number to give it some teeth,” Hirschmann said. “I’ve been driving around looking at all the bridge abutments, and every one from Alderman (Bill) Barry’s ward all the way to my ward is plastered, sometimes with the same individual.”
“Graffiti is an eyesore,” Ward 2 Alderman Will Stewart said. “I totally agree. It annoys me every time I see it.”
“I cellphoned Chief (Carlo) Capano before I called the city clerk, and he was excited that I would go down this road,” Hirschmann said.
The ordinance currently considers such an act as a “violation” ranging from a $50 penalty a person can pay by mail, up to a $1,000 penalty. Hirschmann is asking for the ordinance to be changed to read “shall appear” and with an automatic $1,000 fine “per occurrence.”
“I felt that was a firm, good, hard change to take our city back from graffiti artists.”
Committee members voted to ask the city solicitor’s office to draft an ordinance reflecting the $1,000 fine for review at their next meeting.
Last week, Craig testified before the New Hampshire Senate Finance Committee during a hearing at City Hall, asking the state to restore education funding for the Queen City.
During her testimony, Craig pointed out that cuts in state aid have cost Manchester more than $50 million over the last decade.
“This has forced our community, and many others, to pick up the costs on the backs of local taxpayers or to cut back on much-needed services,” Craig said. “To put this into perspective, updated math curriculum — including books, materials and professional development — for K-8 students across the Manchester School District costs approximately $1.2 million. Updated English Language Arts and Science curriculum costs around $1 million each. These are items Manchester students are going without due to lack of funding provided by the state.”
Craig said the version of the budget passed by the House makes “significant progress,” and would send an additional $19.9 million to Manchester over the next two fiscal years.
“We cannot expect continued economic prosperity for our state if we do not acknowledge and address the challenges facing our educational system,” Craig said. “Our teachers, administrators and school staff are asked to do a lot of work with limited resources. Every dollar our district continues to lose in state funding impacts our ability to address urgent needs such as buying textbooks, increasing special education services and agreeing with our teachers on a fair and sustainable contract. Restoring education funding at the state level will provide much-needed financial relief to Manchester taxpayers, and I ask our Legislature to pass a budget that helps provide our children with a quality, public education.”
Mayoral candidate and Republican former state representative Victoria Sullivan unveiled the initial members of her legislative advisory committee last week. They are:
House Minority Leader Dick Hinch (Hillsborough 21), a U.S. Navy veteran, serving his sixth term in the New Hampshire House.
Sen. Sharon Carson (District 14), who served eight years in the New Hampshire House of Representatives (2000-08) before serving the last nine years in the state Senate. Carson currently represents Hudson, Auburn and Londonderry.
Sen. Regina Birdsell (District 19) is in her third term representing Derry, Windham and Salem, and is vice chairman of the Transportation Committee.
Rep. Joe Alexander (Hillsborough 6), currently in his first term serving Goffstown in the House.
Rep. Jeanine Notter (Hillsborough 21), Deputy Republican Floor Leader, serving Merrimack.
Rep. Kimberly Rice (Hillsborough 37), representing Hudson and Pelham in her second term in the House.
Rep. Glenn Cordelli (Carroll 4), Assistant Republican Leader.
Rep. Gregory Hill (Merrimack 3).
Rep. Lynn Ober (Hillsborough 37), a 15-year veteran in the House who represents Hudson and Pelham.
Rep. Jess Edwards (Rockingham 4), serving Auburn, Chester and Sandown.
“When I served alongside Victoria in the State House, I quickly learned that she was a fighter who would not stand down from a challenge, no matter how difficult to overcome,” Hinch said. “That is exactly what the city of Manchester needs in its next mayor to get back on a successful track, and she has my full support. Once elected mayor, I look forward to working with Victoria to help improve the relationship between our state’s largest city and our state’s elected officials to find real solutions to the many problems facing Manchester’s citizens.”
“Victoria Sullivan is a woman of integrity who I know will stand up for the working class in City Hall,” Carson said. “After seeing how strong she fought for Manchester families in Concord, I know how hard she will work on their behalf as their next mayor.
“As a state senator representing towns that have close working relationships with Manchester, I understand how necessary it is to have a cooperative voice leading our state’s largest city. Manchester must have a leader who is able to work across party lines to achieve results for the betterment of all of our citizens. I truly look forward to being a partner with her in Concord to help make Manchester shine again.”