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Berlin faces another tough budget season

BERLIN - Declining revenues and increased costs are among the challenges the Berlin City Council faces as the councilors and mayor go through the city department budget requests for fiscal year 2014.

"We will have to find a whopping $1.9 million to keep a level tax rate and keep people from getting laid off," Mayor Paul Grenier said in a recent report.

The city manager's proposed budget cuts six full-time employee positions, and still projects a tax rate increase of nearly $4 per $1,000 valuation. The 2012 tax rate was $32.31.

Public utilities account for over 25 percent of the city's $432 million value, with residential land and buildings shouldering roughly 62 percent of the tax burden; commercial properties account for about 12 percent.

The neighboring community of Conway had a 2012 tax rate of $17.61. The Mount Washington Valley town had a total valuation of almost $1.4 billion, with about 68 percent in residential, almost 30 percent commercial, and below 2 percent for public utilities. The two municipalities had almost the same population in 2011 - around 10,000.

At a council meeting last month, City Manager Pat MacQueen said that non-property tax revenues are decreasing, with early estimates on the decrease set at $747,799. On Thursday, MacQueen said that the figure includes a drop of $373,000 in school aid from the state.

Berlin Police Chief Pete Morency has presented a request for $2.9 million, saying that keeping the department budget level-funded would result in the loss of two officer positions.

He pointed to line-item increases that are beyond the department's control, including a higher contribution to the state retirement system.

Increased payments to the retirement system were also cited by school officials, who have presented a budget with an increase of 3.4 percent.

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