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Portsmouth spending: Blaming the state for increase

January 23. 2018 9:04PM

Why are Portsmouth officials planning to increase the city’s budget at nearly three times the rate of inflation?

It’s not their fault, if you ask them.

City Manager John Bohenko argues that the 5.8 percent increase in the preliminary 2019 budget stems in part from the state’s decision to stop contributing toward the local share of the New Hampshire Retirement System (NHRS).

Inflation is currently running at 2 percent.

In 2009, Gov. John Lynch urged the Legislature to lower the state subsidy for local employee retirement from 35 percent to 25 percent by 2011. The Legislature eliminated the subsidy entirely in 2012.

Portsmouth, like every other municipality in the NHRS, has been paying for its own employee pensions for six years. That can’t possibly account for a 5.8 percent increase in 2019.

How much Portsmouth pays into the NHRS is entirely within its control. The state is no longer providing a subsidy for municipal employees, and Portsmouth decides the size of its own city workforce. Local budget writers have had plenty of time to adjust to the new formula.

If the city council wants to go along with the $6.3 million increase proposed by city staff, it should take responsibility for it.

Portsmouth officials should stop passing the buck. If they want to increase city spending, and local property taxes, they should not try to blame past legislatures.

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