MANCHESTER — Ever-escalating city health care and pension costs; delivering city services more efficiently; a school redistricting plan — these were some of the concerns weighing on residents at a public budget hearing Tuesday.
The hearing, required under the city charter, was held to give the public a chance to respond to the budget proposed by Mayor Ted Gatsas a week ago. The budget would allocate $159.5 million to the school district and $137.4 million to the city. The overall city budget would be 2.13 percent larger than last year, the maximum increase allowable under the tax cap.
The hearing was held before the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, and it was presided over by At-Large Alderman Dan O'Neil in place of Gatsas, who was in the hospital for bypass surgery. Ahead of the customary moment of silence, O'Neil asked that Gatsas be kept in the "thoughts and prayers" of the public.
Tammy Simmons, a former Republican state representative, said aldermen needed to make hard decisions rather than continuing to ask taxpayers to pay more for less.
"More efficient trash pick up, charging more for pools — sometimes efficiencies might mean people lose their jobs or someone will pay more for health insurance. It's not the job of the city to provide employment for people," she said.
Two residents took the opportunity to speak out against a preliminary school redistricting plan proposed by Superintendent Debra Livingston.
The plan would entail converting Jewett Street School from an elementary school to the city's central preschool facility, while converting the adjacent Southside Middle School into a K-8 school.
Jimmy Lahoux criticized the board's decision to give Livingston the authority to move forward with her redistricting plan without additional board approval.
"The mayor's ability to lead through rough terrain should be admired, but not allowing this to be brought back to the board is reprehensible," he said. "Not one person on the school board or the administration has experience implementing a K-8 program. They're essentially experimenting with our kids with the latest fad."
Another resident, Carol Backus, said aldermen should seriously consider the impact the tax cap was having on diminished city services and quality of life. "My plea to you is to look carefully... to make a determination whether this is working or not. We need to have this discussion in the city," she said.
Aldermen will be spending the next several weeks reviewing the mayor's budget, as well as several proposed plans for new revenue, such as a fee for trash bags. Aldermen will also be mulling whether to override the tax cap, which would require a 10-vote majority.
The budget must be finalized by early June.