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March 05. 2013 11:21PM

Manchester aldermen take a hard look at mayor's budget proposal

MANCHESTER - The aldermen want to get independent information from department heads as they take a hard look at Mayor Ted Gatsas' budget plan.

The aldermen voted Tuesday to send a list of questions to the department leaders, with their responses to be furnished later in the month.

Last month, Gatsas unveiled a city budget of $138 million and school district budget of $155.7 million. The budgets would be just within the tax cap, and neither would necessitate layoffs, according to the mayor.

The list of 12 questions for the department chiefs was compiled by Aldermen Joyce Craig, Ward 1, and Pat Long, Ward 3.

Craig said one of her primary concerns about the mayor's budget was that it left the severance line unfunded, and that some department heads were unaware that it did so.

"I know the city in the past would have departments handle severance, but they budgeted for it within the departments. I understand some of the departments signed off on their budgets without knowing there wasn't going to be severance," Craig said after the meeting. "It's important that we understand what the impact of this is going to be."

Severance payouts have run hundreds of thousands dollars over budget this year due to an unexpectedly large number of retirements.

Meanwhile, the school board is expected to debate and vote on its own budget for the school district at its meeting Monday, which is to be followed on Tuesday by a public hearing on the proposed budget.

Superintendent Thomas Brennan has brought forward two budgets: a $155.7 million tax cap budget that forms the basis for the mayor's proposal, and a "school approval" budget of $160 million, which he says is aimed at ensuring the district meets minimum state standards.

The aldermen will convene a public hearing at Memorial High School on both budgets on April 1. The aldermen voted Tuesday to ask members of the school board to appear there as well. The Memorial location was proposed in order to accommodate a large anticipated turnout.

Aldermen have the authority to establish the final budgets for the city and schools.

Gatsas' budget is 2.16 percent larger than last year's budget, just within the tax cap. Most of the increase in the budget is devoted to the school district, or $3.3 million.

On the city side, Gatsas directed his department heads to cut their budgets by 1 percent. All departments did so, with the exception of the police, fire and highway departments.

The Police Department will be spending $720,000 more in salaries, and the Fire Department will be spending $140,000 more.

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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