June 05. 2014 12:04AM

Talk of tax cap override increases in Manchester

New Hampshire Union Leader

MANCHESTER — With a final budget meeting scheduled for next week, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Board of Mayor and Aldermen will vote to override the tax cap.

After rejecting one proposed budget Tuesday, the board voted to convene a special meeting Tuesday, June 10 — the deadline under the city charter for a final budget.

The aldermen appear to be coalescing around a budget being drawn up by Ward 1 Aldermen Joyce Craig, and Ward 3’s Pat Long. The budget would be approximately 4 percent larger than the budget enacted last year, exceeding the 2.13 percent tax cap. Overriding the tax cap requires 10 votes on the 14-member board.

Ward 8 Alderman Tom Katsiantonis was involved in drafting the budget that was considered and rejected by the aldermen Tuesday, which proposed a 3.97 percent hike and devoted a large share of the additional money to contingency, to be used by departments as the aldermen deemed necessary.

Katsiantonis said Wednesday that he is hopeful modifications could be made to the Craig-Long budget. “We’re going to try to work together. My whole goal is I can’t go above 4 percent,” he said.

Craig said she too is hopeful a consensus could be reached on a final budget.

“The numbers are so close,” she said. “The difference is just where we’re putting the dollars. We believe that there are immediate needs in the city, and if we’re going to increase taxes through an override, we need to address them and get more officers on the streets and fix our roads.”

Mayor Ted Gatsas reiterated his view, expressed publicly for the first time at Tuesday’s meeting, that he would only support an override below 4 percent.

He said he hoped to meet with the aldermen over this week. “I think everybody should be talking to everybody, so we have consensus and come to a common understanding on what’s best for the city of Manchester,” he said.

At least two aldermen won’t support any budget that involves an override of the tax cap: Keith Hirschmann, Ward 12, and Alderman-At-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur. They’ve devised their own budget, which is also expected to be considered next week. Their budget freezes current vacancies in place, while shifting approximately $1 million appropriated to the school district in the mayor’s budget (and believed to be part of the Craig-Long budget) to the city.

Only one alderman abstained on the budget vote Tuesday: Ward 5’s Ed Osborne, who said he wanted a chance to review all of the proposed budgets before casting his vote.

During the public comment period at Tuesday’s meeting, several residents urged the aldermen to uphold the tax cap.

“It’s simple,” Tammy Simmons said. “The people of Manchester want the city to live within its means, just like they do.”

But a number of aldermen said they heard from many constituents who are fed up with rising crime and poor roads.

“The inner city is bursting with crime,” Ward 9 Alderman Barbara Shaw said. “The people are crying for things to change in this city. They don’t care about the tax cap anymore. They want to see changes made, so they can see what they’re getting for their money.”

If the aldermen are unable to pass a budget next Tuesday, the budget proposed by the mayor in March becomes the default budget. His spending plan contains an estimated $7.5 million shortfall.

Should the mayor veto the budget or a line item within it and there aren’t enough votes for an override, the aldermen will have until June 30 to muster enough support for a final budget.

The 2015 fiscal year begins July 1.