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April 05. 2014 11:11PM

Ted Siefer's City Hall: Mayor presents his budget, raises union concerns


 

Mayor Ted Gatsas presented his budget for the 2015 fiscal year on Monday, and not surprisingly it wasn't exactly greeted with fanfare and cheers. Things are tough, and the budget has a good size hole in it - $6 million in unfunded health care, severance and contingency costs.

If there was a thin silver lining in the mayor's budget speech, it was that there would be no layoffs. This was the refrain, not for the police department, not for the fire department, not for public works, and so on.

Also not surprisingly, some union representatives have a very skeptical view of the mayor's budget and the no-layoff vow. They're certain to make their views known to the aldermen, who will review the budget over the next couple of months. Mike Roche, the president of United Steelworkers Local 8938, which represents Water Works employees, said the mayor's budget will simply freeze vacancies in place. "Between 5 and 7 percent of the full-time workforce is not here, which results in a cut in services, plain and simple," he wrote in an email, referring to Water Works.

One of the main points of contention with the mayor's budget is likely to be reducing the firefighter complement from 46 to 42.

"For Chief (James) Burkush and the Manchester Fire Department," Gatsas said in his speech, "this number can be met and the safety of the city (can be) maintained with a 42-man complement, with no layoffs." Jeff Duval, the president of the Manchester Professional Fire Fighters Association, said reducing the complement would go against a section of the union's contract. The firefighters, he said, gave up additional overtime pay in exchange for maintaining the complement at 46. If the complement drops below this number, higher overtime rates would kick in.

"It's a huge concern, not only for the safety of the public, but the safety of the men," Duval said of dropping the complement. "I'm still trying to figure out how this is going to save money."

A contingent of aldermen have already accused Gatsas of picking on the fire department, and as the budget talks progress, you can expect them to seize on the complement size.

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Given the grim budgetary situation, last week probably wasn't the best time for the Manchester Police Department to dust off a proposal to have the Office of the City Solicitor take over juvenile prosecutions.

Nonetheless, Deputy Police Chief Nick Willard went before the aldermen's Human Resources Committee on Tuesday to make the case that juvenile prosecutions were best handled by a professional attorney, not a police officer.

"This would give the victims of the crime the proper due process. In some cases, the officer is dealing with more complex cases than the misdemeanor cases the solicitor's office deals with," he said.

Willard said that the department would prefer to reassign the police officer charged with juvenile prosecutions to be a second adult arraignment prosecutor.

Willard noted that until the late 1980s, juvenile prosecutions were handled by the City Solicitor's Office.

The problem with the plan, as Solicitor Tom Clark told the committee, is money.

"My attorneys are tapped out. They take work home, and they never complain. . In order to handle the workload, I would need another attorney and administrative assistant. What we're looking at would cost $165,000."

In what could be a mantra for a lot of department heads these days, Clark added: "In a perfect world, it would make sense for my office to handle it. But it's not a perfect world. . But we're more than wiling to help the police any way we can."

And with that, the committee voted to receive and file the proposal.

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Every so often, a well-meaning club or nonprofit group comes to the city with a request to waive its permit fees for the use of a facility or park for a special event - and the answer is almost always no.

One might have expected the latest group to approach the aldermen would exhibit a greater pull on their heart strings: the Manchester North Little League, which plans to hold a fundraising golf tournament at the Derryfield Country Club on June 20.

At Tuesday's full board meeting, Ward 1 Alderman Joyce Craig argued the league deserved special consideration because much of the money it would raise would go toward maintaining the city fields teams play on.

But once again, the hammer came down: Rules are rules. A majority voted against granting a waiver.

It fell on Ward 7's Bill Shea to play the heavy. "We're setting such a precedent that no one would pay any fees at the Derryfield," he said. "If we allow one to do it, we should allow all to do it."

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Getting folks to attend meetings at City Hall can be challenging these days; people are busy, and local government is not always so, um, stimulating. But the Manchester school board seems to be making an earnest attempt to meet constituents where they are in the digital age. The board has started a Facebook page: "Ask the School Board."

In recent weeks, it's gained about 550 members. Perhaps more encouragingly, the members have thoughtful discussions. Frequently, Ward 10's John Avard, who administers the page, and other school board members answer questions and offer informative posts. So, apparently Facebook can serve a productive purpose after all.

Ted Siefer is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He may be reached at tsiefer@unionleader.com and followed on Twitter @tbsreporter.


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