Bart Shuldman: Town Leaders’ Hard Work Controls Costs

Wherever they were last week, Westporters appreciated hearing that our mill rate will actually fall in the coming fiscal year.

Bart Shuldman was in China. On his flight home, he reflected on the news:

Westport taxpayers received good news regarding the mill rate for fiscal year 2016-2017. The Board of Finance approved a 6.8% decrease from the previous year, based on the growth of the Grand List and the good work by Jim Marpe, Avi Kaner and the Board of Finance at controlling costs for the coming year.

In addition, Westport taxpayers will also pay less property tax on their cars. We should all thank Jim, Avi and the Board of Finance for their diligent work, as Westport is not like any other town in Connecticut. Many, if not all surrounding towns are experiencing either small or large mill rate increases.

Westport's 1st and 2nd selectmen: Jim Marpe (left) and Avi Kaner.

Westport’s 1st and 2nd selectmen: Jim Marpe (left) and Avi Kaner.

Westporters also learned additional good news: The town will continue to pay down debt, and also continue to pay the Actuarial Required Contribution for the town employee pension plan. I do not think most people know how important this piece of the news is to all of us.

Some background: Many years ago the town implemented 2 major employee benefit programs, a defined pension plan and something called OPEB (Other Post Employee Benefits). In addition, past town leaders borrowed a lot of money and accumulated a large amount of debt.

In 2011, after a very deep recession, Westport’s debt stood at over $156 million. Our pension liability was over $186 million, and the OPEB liability was more than $84 million.

Making matters worse, for years before 2011 Westport was not funding the Actuarial Required Contribution necessary to meet the pension obligations promised to town employees. Then the stock market went through the 2009 recession, causing pension assets to decline. Westport taxpayers were on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars.

This is NOT a photo of Westport's pension fund.

This is NOT a photo of Westport’s pension fund.

Fast forward to today. With the good work of Jim, Avi and the Board of Finance, the town is in much better financial shape.  While the pension obligation has grown to over $270 million, the pension is 85% funded.

As noted above, Westport is now paying the total Actuarial Required Contribution and also making up for past underpayments. Meanwhile, the town’s debt is down to $115 million.

What might surprise many residents is that debt service, employee pension and OPEB obligations are an enormous percentage of the budget. Principal and interest cost on the town’s debt is over $14 million. Pensions cost the town over $16 million, and it appears OPEB costs over $10 million each year. Therefore, almost 20% of the town’s budget goes to decisions made many years ago, and does not fund current town needs and potential projects.

Westport residents should thank our current town leaders for doing what is needed to control costs and manage the town’s obligations.

42 responses to “Bart Shuldman: Town Leaders’ Hard Work Controls Costs

  1. I think Mr. Shuldman forgot to mention the RTM, which has worked hard on keeping costs down with a new focus on competitive bidding requirements, and by cutting even further portions of budgets, even after they passed the BOF. Like the BOF, RTMers dedicate their time without compensation on behalf of their community.

  2. Matthew Mandell

    I’ll second Kristen here in true RTM fashion. The oversight and accountability built into the RTM system has much to do with this positive result.

    While the names of all the RTM would be too long, maybe the names of Helen Garten also a selectman, and all the BOF, Brian Stern, Mike Rea, Lee Caney, Clarissa Moore, Shari Gordon, Jen Tooker and John Hartwell should be called out.

  3. Sheri Gordon, not Shari.

  4. don l bergmann

    While this commentary should generate compliments to many more people than Bart referenced, the listing of all the names that occur to me would probably also generate omissions..One point to realize is that a 6.86% percent reduction in the Mill Rate provides little meaningful information as to the decreases or increases in real estate taxes a homeowner will experience since all homes were revalued as of 10/1/15. Town Assessor Paul Friia has publicized that the revaluation has resulted in the average home value in Westport increasing by 7.5%. I have suggested to Paul and Jim Marpe that information be distributed to all home owners with their new tax bills that lets people better understand that an increase in a home value by 7.5% and a decrease in the Mill Rate by 6.85% is close to a “wash” when it comes to the actual real estate tax bill. Most likely all in Westport realize this but many of the stories and comments, such as Bart’s, do not make this as clear as I think might be desirable.
    Don Bergmann

    • Bart Shuldman

      Don. Maybe you should look around Fairfield County and the rest of CT to see what is happening with their higher, much higher property taxes. And some are watching as their home values are declining while the mill rate goes up.

      We have been fortunate to have leadership that is watching our spending while changing some employees in the town from defined benefit plans to defined contributions (401k). This move alone,over time, will save the town lots of money and take the town out of guaranteeing returns. This change of benefits create benefits more in line with the private sector.

      Finally, if all was so great previously, then how did we get in such a bad situation?

  5. Pat Pontoriero

    Won’t they just reassess your property value up so that net net, there will not be any savings realized? I’ve seen this before in other neighborhoods. I am skeptical.

  6. Bart Shuldman

    I would venture to guess that anyone who bought a house did not do it to see the value decrease.

    In addition, many saw their value go down as the surrounding issues effect Westport. Let’s not forget that at least 100 GE executives are leaving the Town of Fairfield and GE Capital has basically closed in Stamford.

    I would think that many will see their property taxes decrease. In addition everyone will experience lower property taxes on their cars.

    As for giving credit to the RTM, year some might have helped. But many have been on the RTM for years while the town spent and borrowed. In addition, the new Board members of the Board of Finance who were just elected had very little impact into the work the previous Board (led by Jen Tooker) had, and also the leadership by Jim and Avi had on the spending.

    But lets hope the new Board and Finace will
    Continue their diligence. The pension liability can easily get out of hand with one Wall Street market correction or the potential issues with real estate. We owe the town employees lots of money and it could crowd out spending of we are not careful.

  7. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Infrastructure costs? How do they fit in?

  8. Dick Lowenstein

    It must have been a very long flight, Mr. Shuldman, as what you’re writing here is similar to what you wrote last week in your frequent WestportNow comments. The words may not be identical, but the refrain is: Republicans good, Democrats bad.

    Clearly you are now a happy camper. And you should be. After all, you have achieved a personal tax “trifecta:”

    – Your 2015 real estate assessment was reduced 6.7% to $2,283,400
    – You would have saved $2,977 next fiscal year under the existing mill rate of 18.09 and using your new assessment
    – You will save $5,786 next fiscal year using the new mill rate of 16.86 and your taxes will go down 13% from 2015-16


    • Bart Shuldman

      Dick-you have reached a new low by publishing personal information.

      But you failed to say that in order to get some tax savings this coming year our home value has decreased. After years of paying higher property taxes as our home increased in the appraised value, we now find our home is appraised less. I do not find that to be a good thing-to see the value of our home decline.

      If you want to publish someone’s personal information (Mr Trump) why don’t you tell the whole story?

      Instead of focusing on my situation you seem to fail at focusing on the big issue-Dick. But you have been an active person in Westport for years and it does not surprise me you want to deflect from the real issues.

  9. Awesome info and many thanks.

  10. Glenn Payne

    I do think the prudent funding of the pension liabilities is to be applauded. However to use the mill rate as the metric is flawed, mill rates are simply an input to allocate the town costs to the residents. Absolute dollars per person are the most important comparison. Westport is the HIGHEST spending and HIGHEST taxing town per capita in the state (per CERC). For the avoidance of doubt, we spend more and tax more per person than any of the other 169 towns. Our schools costs are similar to other elite Fairfield County schools (~$20k/student), and we have a similar demographic (~22% students) so it’s “other” costs and likely the funding the pension explains some of the difference, but this is no race we want to win.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Glenn. You highlight one of the major issues in Westport–we have very high costs compared to other towns due to past decisions. These costs just did not appear–they were decided years ago by those in charge.

      What is happening now is a new set of leaders willing to address these issues. In no way were past administrations willing to tackle these high costs. In fact just the opposite. Between Gordon and Dianne and others, they spent and borrowed. We have to be honest with ourselves that it happened, that we have these costs in place and be thankful we now have leaders willing to focus on it.

      Unless Westport taxpayers are willing to keep the pressure on, we can easily fall back into spend and borrow.

  11. Chip Stephens - Staples 73

    Folks Bart is giving credit where it is due for all he has mentioned and more. We are lucky that we have individuals who work so hard for the good of all Westport citizens, all but 1st Selectman (who is paid a pittance as CEO of comparative a midsized corporation) earn $0 for 10s of hours dedication weekly and deliver such positive results.
    I am reminded of last election, standing in the Saugatuck El parking lot shaking hands, and having several individuals come out bitching to those of us running that they had no choice in RTM or certain races as there were not enough candidates running. to make a race. When asked why they did not run they offered little except they did not have time or interest.
    Thank you Bart for pointing out the positive, to those who are dedicated to find a negative or syndical stance, you are nothing but noise if you are not part of the solution.

  12. Ted Friedman

    Thank you Dick Lowenstein for calling out this self interested joker. The real question is not whether we are funding the absurd defined benefit pension commitments to the detriment of taxpayers but whether going forward we are responsibly going to change all new employees of Westport Police and Fire to defined contribution pension plans effective with the new contract. Any compromise on this issue is gross misconduct on the part of the current administration.

    • Do the employees have any say in the structure of their compensation?

    • Bart Shuldman

      Yes-absolutely we should try and get our town union employees on defined contribution plans. That is not easy as their contracts get tied to what the state does. As I am sure you know, the Governor extended the union contracts which will make the towns effort difficult. Too bad, given the huge financial issues at the state level, we seem to have missed a real opportunity.

      The defined contribution plan changes I wrote about are in regards to the towns non-union employees.

      In addition, we need to continue to aggressively pay down Westport debt while applauding Jim and Avi for replacing some existing debt with lower rate bonds. Interest rates will not stay this low much longer.

      • Ted Fruedman

        Many neighboring Fairfield County towns have already successfully negotiated defined contribution plans for new employees for their unionized fire and police departments. Anything less than this is outright failure in the current negotiations.

        • Bart Shuldman

          Ted. Very much agree with you–if we can change all new hires to a defined contribution plan-the longer term situation in Westport can only improve. Just like what was already done with the non union town workers.

          But the problem Westport faces with the pension plan is in regards to all the retired and existing town workers that have pensions. I have not seen anything in the state where those plans have been changed. And that is where the problem lies.

          Today’s liability just for the pension plan is over $270 million!! Leaders many years ago made the promise. And we are on the hook to pay the retired and existing employees.

          Some of the good things Westport has done over the last 2 years was to change the discount rate to better reflect real earnings in the plan. Using a high rate over inflated the returns and left the fund in worse shape as we thought we were making more. Using a realistic return rate on the assets in the plan gives an accurate picture on the return on those assets and and an accurate picture of the amount we need to add to the pension plan yearly to stay properly funded. Making the discount rate change was a huge move in the right direction.

          • Ted Friedman

            Again, nobody is debating that the town is doing a better job in funding its pension obligations for retired and existing employees. However, unless we want to be in the same situation 25 years from now, pensions for NEW EMPLOYEES must be changed from defined benefit to defined contribution plans NOW.

            • Bart Shuldman

              Ted – the answer is actually yes and no. Let me explain.

              First, if and when we can change the union plans to defined contribution, the the town will most likely pay a ‘matching’ benefit that most companies do. So the town will still experience some cost for those matching benefits. A good rule of thumb will be between 50-100% of the first 6% is the persons salary. That will be in good standing to what the private sector offers.

              What those exact costs are-I have not done the math. But we should expect retirement costs as part of the towns expenses.

              What we will avoid is the guaranteed amount of the pension to an employee. That will be determined by how much the employee sets aside and what funds in this new 401K fund they put their money into.

              But the town will no longer be effected by the swings in the stock and bond market. The negative effect of the deep recession on the pension assets had to be made up by all the taxpayers in Westport. Once again a regressive tax as everyone has to pay to help. Just seeing the stock market finally coming back does not make up for the years we lost asset growth during the sever downturn.

              So yeah-getting Westport out of the game of guaranteeing returns is a very good thing. Assembling a solid 401k plan for the towns employees is also a very good thing, that will still cost Westport something.

              • Ted Friedman

                Thanks for the lesson in Pension 101. Of course, the mission is to remove the uncertainty for the town as opposed to not providing a viable pension for town employees. Now make it happen.

      • Ted Friedman

        Many neighboring Fairfield County towns have already successfully negotiated defined contribution plans for new employees for their unionized fire and police departments. Reducing future excessive liabilities is dependent on successful negotiations now.

  13. Steve Stein

    Bravo! I am now thrilled that Bart has pointed out that our mill rate has actually gone done!!

    But- a funny thing happened when I multiplied the newly decreased mill rate of 16.86 on my newly reassessed 1965 home (which is assessed for about a third of Bart’s) – Gee- I have a $1,168 increase in my actual tax bill- about a 9% tax raise !! Hmmm- something must be wrong with my math here! Am I subsidizing Bart’s home!!

    But it gets worse- Since I live on a small private road I am actually doing an even better job of subsidizing everyone in town living on a town road!! We get no town services compared to similarly priced homes on town roads and have to pay for our snow removal, road repair, repaving, maintaining the catch basin, and doing tree trimming and removal!

    Wow- the mill rate has gone done a few percent! I am ecstatic. Especially when our home assessment went up 15%. Several of the homes on our street appealed our land assessments which overvalued our properties by 50 to 100 thousand dollars- equal to about the increase in our actually increased taxes. We even pointed out that some very large newer homes in our area actually had substantially decreased valuation and assessments when our older homes were assessed higher!!

    This must be a classic case of a new Westport Robin Hood mentality- robbing from the less expensive homes to subsidize the more expensive homes- making these extra large homes more tax affordable??

    I see a Republican plot here- if you raise the taxes on the lower priced, more affordable homes (by Westport standards) – you can subsidize the property taxes on the more expensive homes. And a secondary gain- you may get some of the older homes to sell out to the building companies- who then build more expensive homes!

    This is win- win for the town- the tax roles increase with the ever bigger homes being eligible for a subsidized under assessment to force even more smaller homes into higher property taxes!

    Thank you Bart for pointing out the benefits of the lower mill rate- Now I just have to get us a bigger home so we can start getting the benefits of the lower mill rate!

    Bart – basic math- mill rate is only a multiplier. The assessment times the assessment determines your taxes. You lucked out- I didn’t. Boo Hoo for me!!

    Just a thought.

  14. Steve Stein

    Oooops – Mill rate times assessment equals taxes! (MR x A= T)

    • Many confuse tax rates and tax receipts. As JFK argued, at times it is possible to lower tax rates and increase tax receipts. It is possible also to raise tax rates and lower tax receipts.

      In Westport, spending increased by less than 2%. Tax receipts needed to increase to cover the increased spending. If actual taxes paid are to decline, spending must decline as well.

  15. Mike Alpert

    And how did the pension funding reach 85% (presumably from something lower)?

    Was it something the town did or was it due to financial markets rallying? Should we credit Marpe or Yellen?

  16. Bart Shuldman

    Dan-while some who seem to find anger at me at my reflection, I can only imagine the emails that you must be receiving regarding their displeasure with you.

    Please know 06880 is so valuable to this town that these people cannot see past their own agenda. Making taxpayers aware of the pension, OPEB and debt obligations and the effect on the budget is a service. An invaluable service. As they complain to you, they need to understand their wants and needs in Westport are crowded out by past decisions that we simply cannot wish away.

    Oh well. This too will pass when they focus on another tree being cut down or car parked at a Starbucks. Feed them really important facts that truly effect their lives just seems to get them angry and personal.

    I hope others join me in thanking Dan for all he does.

    • Steve Stein

      Hi Bart-

      Just wanted to share with you – Thank You Dan!

      Dan always does a great job spreading the word, sharing the podium and getting out to the Westport community the interesting stuff he finds- that we would normally all overlook- the hiding in plain sight details of our lives! He even places on his blog the interesting information he is supplied by outside writers- including you!

      But- Once it is out there it becomes fodder for comment- snide and/or praising. Dan also gives us a forum to bellyache and complain about what ever is on our minds- sometimes on completely tangential issues!

      And it is always interesting to see what other people are seeing and thinking about the same subject placed on this blog- a good thing!

      I would hope this town has a smarter mentality than “shooting the messenger”- and I did not see any attacks on Dan for sharing your thoughts.

      And I would bet there is not a single (sane)person reading this blog who would want it to change or go away!

      Sooo- this is a long way of saying- you scored a couple of points that lowering the mill rate and the town debt are good things. You lost a lot of points by not adding that the other tax multiplier is your property assessment. And as pointed out- assessments do not change equally for everyone- and that there are winners (big houses getting a tax breaks) and losers (somewhat smaller houses getting 10% increases)!

      • Bart Shuldman

        Steve—regarding winners and losers, it does appear the policies of Governor Malloy and the leadership in Hartford (supported by Rep Steinberg) are causing some to win and some to lose in CT.

        Just looking at Westport, the smaller homes are seeing the biggest rise in property values while the higher end homes are seeing decreases. As GE executives move out of the state with the corporate office moving to Boston, GE Capital closing in Stamford and other businesses in Fairfield County leaving; high paying jobs are exiting Fairfield County. This should not be ‘new’ news as we watch the state financial crises which has been impacted by much lower state income tax receipts. In this environment, high end homes can be difficult to sell, there are many are on the market, and home prices are declining.

        After 2 huge tax increases that were approved by the Governor and the leadership in Hartford including Rep Steinberg, businesses and high net worth individuals are leaving the state. In addition, the 40% of the state income tax that is generated by Wall Street type people in CT is declining rapidly. With so much rhetoric regarding banks and Wall Street, their incomes are dropping and therefore, so are Connecticut state income tax receipts.

        So the winners in Westport are those with smaller homes as they are attractive to the new people moving into Westport. In addition, they have become attractive to builders who are knocking them down and replacing with homes with more modern finishes. The good news is once the new home is built, the town receives increased property tax from that home due to the new higher valuation.

        The net result of all this is the lower priced homes are in demand and their values rising. With higher selling prices for these homes the valuation goes up and so does the property tax.

        Congratulations Dick Lowenstein with the new higher assessed value for your home. You will clearly reap the benefits when you decide to sell.

  17. Bobbi Essagof

    Don’t forget all about the money the town is saving by forcing out the municipal employees to retire through a new pension contract that takes way all we’ve worked for and counted on, in my case for 17 years. This includes School secretaries, nurses aides, paraprofessionals, custodians and 6 other municipal unions. We don’t earn much to begin with but work to better our schools and interact with each and every student daily. So many of us who have known your families and kids as they have moved from Kindergarten through SHS. Very few of us want to retire but now have no choice. Yes nobody is irreplaceable but how about a little loyalty and return of the kindness and devotion we have shown the schools and the kids we love. I’m sad, angry and disappointed in the town I have called home for 27 years. It’s fine to change the plan but really disgusting to take away all we have worked for. I can’t imagine based on what I earn that this is a savings that will make a difference that is worth the havoc it may cause.

  18. Ted Friedman

    Mr. Shuldman, your piece is an informative piece. What I and many others resent is the politicization of the hard work that has been put in by both Republicans and Democrats to control costs and effectively manage debt, pension and OPEB obligations in the difficult aftermath of the financial crisis. It is revisionist history to try to claim that the Democratic leadership of both the town and BoF did not exercise extremely prudent financial management in the years 2008 – 2013. The current claim that the reduction of the mill rate results in an average property tax decrease suffers from the same desire to make political hay and strays from the facts.

    • The unfunded liabilities associated with OPEB are largely the result of bad management, not the financial “crisis”. The current contracts were put in place after the ‘crisis”.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Ted you continue to post without any fact or figures. I guess it is easy to try and convince anyone reading this blog of your ‘opinion’, but now it’s time to let everyone know the real facts.

      So let’s get into the details:
      From 2008 to 2013, Westport’s spending went from $158 million to over $188 million, a growth of almost 20%. During a very deep recession, the leadership in town, approved by the Board of Finance at that time, continued to spend without much constraint. Most of that increase was NOT for education spending, it was the growth in the Selectman’s General Fund that went from $54.7 million to over $73.5 million, almost $20 million.

      While I do not have the Westport employee pension liabilities before 2010, Westport pension liabilities grew from $177.6 million in 2010 to over $259 million in 2013 and the unfunded liability grew tremendously—from $14 million in 2010 to over $53 million in 2013.

      In 2011, it was discovered that the Other Post Employee Benefits (OPEB) plan was understated by approximately $100 million!! This became a huge issue for Westport taxpayers. As we know Gordon Joseloff was the 1st Selectman at that time and Helen Gartner was The Chair of the Board of Finance. Not only did the town find out the bad financial news, the residents also learned that Westport was using an actuarial firm with NO municipal experience. It was not until Avi Kaner took over as Chair of the Board of Finance, that Westport hired an actuarial firm with the proper experience and begin the difficult work to get the OPEB debacle under control.

      Finally, there was NO work by Gordon Joseloff or Helen Gartner to move the town employees from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan. Again it was not until the leadership of the Board of Finance was changed to Avi Kaner and the newly elected Board of Finance at that time, did change begin to happen. Now, with Jim Marpe’s leadership, we are finally starting to see the change occur.

      Ted-it is important that the taxpayers in Westport understand the true facts, and the changes that are beginning to occur.

      • Helen Garten

        I have been following this discussion with increasing amazement but now that I and Mr Joseloff have been mentioned by name i must correct at least one of the errors in Bart’s indictment. Pensions and other post employment benefits are guaranteed to our employees by contract and changing contracts takes time. The effort to move new employees from defined benefit to defined contribution plans began while Mr Joseloff was First Selectman and I was Chair of the Board of Finance, but it was a bipartisan effort over several years. The change required contract negotiations and in one case a lengthy arbitration proceeding in which many of us were involved. The town also had to create a new defined contribution plan, a process that involved both the Board of Finance and the RTM. None of this happened suddenly due to a change in leadership.

        During my time on the Board of Finance, every one of my colleagues, Democrat and Republican, understood the need to work with our employees to achieve common sense and fair pension reform. The rising costs of benefits, which continue to grow, make this necessary. The effort continues today and it is too important to be trivialized to score political points.

        I could correct other misstatements (including the spelling of my name) but I’d rather enjoy this beautiful weather. Happy Memorial Day to all.

  19. Bryan Meek

    Westport’s property values are very important to Norwalk homeowners here in Cranbury neighborhood. Has Westport Finance team analyzed the impact of new HUD rules that are going to force expansion of section 8 housing there? Are there any forecasts of the potential decreased property values and subsequent increase in cost for services? I hope you are arming yourselves for this regulation change that is supposed to hit us this fall.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Helen, let me help your remember what was happening back in 2011, when Gordon Josleoff (pictured next to you in the Westport News story) was requesting to buy back into Westport’s Defined Benefit Program. Clearly Gordon Joseloff was not trying to buy into a new defined contribution plan. The link is below.

      I also remind you that once Avi Kaner became Chair of the Board of Finance, the Board had to replace the existing actuarial firm that was involved in Westport’s OPEB program. The link to that story is also below.

      The big issue with OPEB that happened back in 2001 was the previous democratic administration and Board of Finance (that you eventually chaired) negotiated an awful OPEB agreement, leaving the town with huge liabilities. Making matters much worse was Westport using an actuarial firm with NO municipal experience, and the town did not account for the liability correctly–leaving the Westport taxpayers with a $100 million problem.

      Lastly, you were not in favor of changing to a defined contribution plan because you were afraid some town employees would quit. Once Avi Kaner became the chair of the Board of Finance, he was able to convince Gordon Joseloff that Westport had to change, and the work began.

  20. Morley Boyd

    Bart, with respect, your recollection of Westport’s transition to defined contribution plans needs some amending: The effort to shift Westport town employees to defined contribution plans was initiated by Selectman Joseloff and the Board of Finance – well before Mr. Kaner became chair of the latter. You may have gotten confused with the passage of time, but perhaps you will recall that it took some time to set up the new defined benefit plan, obtain the RTM’s approval, negotiate with the unions and, ultimately, go to arbitration. Although the current administration (to its credit) supports pension reform, it had, as I think you know, nothing whatsoever to do with it.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Morley, your memory is inaccurate. In January 2011, well into Gordon Joseloff’s 2nd term as First Selectman, Gordon was seeking approval to buy back into the Westport’s Defined Pension Benefit program, the employee benefit program that is financially hurting Westport today. Below I include the link to the Wesport News story highlighting Gordon’s request.

      Maybe this will help remind you of how bad it was back then:

      • Dick Lowenstein

        The story that you, Mr. Shuldman, linked to has nothing to do with the points raised by Mr. Boyd. Two different subjects and two different results. Whether Mr. Joseloff should have tried to opt into the Town pension plan is not relevant, as his request was denied. Just because you say the same things any time, any place, and everywhere does not make you right, Maybe a few “IMHO” would help.