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Manchester mayor to present 'tax cap' budget

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 18. 2013 11:21PM

MANCHESTER - Mayor Ted Gatsas will unveil his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year in an address to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen this evening.

In his presentation, the mayor will lay out separate spending plans for the city and school district, as well as the Community Improvement Program, which supports nonprofits and infrastructure projects largely through federal grants.

The budget is the second to be proposed under the city's voter-approved tax cap, which limits spending and revenue increases to the rise in the rate of inflation.

Gatsas has a little more room to work with than he did last year, but not much more. The budget for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins July 1, may be up to 2.17 percent larger than last year's, based on the three-year average rise in the Consumer Price Index. Last year, the budget was limited to a 1.41 percent increase.

Gatsas finalized his budget last week, a month earlier than last year, in an effort to give the school and aldermanic boards more time to review and approve the proposals.

Gatsas would only discuss the budget numbers in general terms prior to presenting them tonight.

"The priorities are to balance doing what we need to do to maintain services and doing that with respect to the tax cap," he said.

The school district budget will likely be the central focus of debate in the coming weeks, as it has been for much of the past year. Crowded classrooms and other problems in the schools have prompted a group of parent activists, as well as school board members in the sending towns of Hooksett and Candia, to charge that the city under-funds its school system.

Gatsas said that he recognizes the importance of education.

"I'm a product of the education system in Manchester, and if I didn't have some of the great teachers I had I probably wouldn't be sitting here. So education is important - as well as a burden on the taxpayer. It's important to understand, from the state, to Manchester, even the kitchen table on Belmont Street, people are having a hard enough time. We need to keep that balance in perspective," he said.

Superintendent Thomas Brennan has proposed a tax cap budget of $155 million for the schools, and a "school approval" budget of $160 million, which aims to ensure that the district meets minimum state standards.

The school board is expected to propose the higher budget number. But the aldermen have the ultimate authority over establishing the budgets, and they have in the past deferred to the mayor's proposals. In order to override the city's tax cap, a super-majority of 10 aldermen must vote to do so.

The budget presentation will begin at approximately 7:30 p.m., following a public comment period.

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