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Manchester mayor, aldermen expected to consider no fewer than three proposed budgets

May 31. 2014 7:28PM

MANCHESTER - Get ready for a battle of dueling budgets.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen is expected to consider no fewer than three proposed budgets at its meeting Tuesday, the last scheduled session before the June 10 budget deadline.

The central question of the night will be whether to override the tax cap and, if so, by how much.

Earlier this year, Mayor Ted Gatsas proposed a combined city and school budget of $297 million that contained a shortfall of $6 million in unfunded health care and severance costs.

Since then, the projected deficit has risen to $7.5 million, and the aldermen have rejected or are likely to reject several new revenue schemes - including a pay-as-you-throw trash collection program - that were aimed at shoring up the budget gap.

In past years, a group of aldermen has worked with Gatsas to come up with a final budget that made use of shifting revenues in the closing weeks of the fiscal year. This year, there's been far less cooperation, and some aldermen have faulted Gatsas for not taking enough responsibility for the budget.

Should the aldermen not reach an agreement on a budget, Gatsas's proposed budget, with the shortfall, will become the default budget on June 30. Changes could be made in the intervening three weeks, but only if a special meeting is called. The aldermen have only one scheduled meeting in June.

One of the alternative budgets Tuesday is expected to come from Aldermen Joyce Craig, Ward 1, and Pat Long, Ward 3, who played lead roles in the budget adopted last year.

Craig said the budget would propose an override of the tax cap, which restricts the increase in the budget to 2.13 percent above last year.

"I think it's going to be tough to retain essential city services and stay under the tax cap this year," she said.

Craig said she couldn't specify the extent of the override. "We're still crunching numbers and meeting with aldermen at this point," she said.

According to sources, Craig's budget would contain an override in the range of 4 percent.

Another budget proposal is expected to come from Ward 4 Alderman Jim Roy. Roy did not return calls for comment on Thursday.

Also putting forward a budget will be Keith Hirschmann, Ward 12, and Joe Kelly Levasseur, alderman at-large. Their budget is designed to stay under the tax cap.

The budget would increase the money sought for the schools by $1.3 million and the city by $2.7 million, equal to the roughly $4 million increase allowable under the tax cap.

Conversely, the mayor's proposed budget designates about $2.8 million of the increase to the school district and $1.2 million for the city.

Hirschmann said there would be no layoffs in the budget he developed with Levasseur, but personnel vacancies would be frozen in place, while the firefighter complement would be maintained at 46.

"There were, of course, the cuts of unfilled positions and line-item cuts, but overall it was the mandate of public safety and streets that our budget keeps ... in the foreground, and the pledge to the taxpayers," Hirschmann said.

Levasseur said, "While food and energy costs skyrocket, the last thing the citizens of this city need is an override of the tax cap."

The budget presentations will set the stage for what likely will be a series of close votes. Overriding the tax cap requires a two-thirds majority of the 14-member board, or 10 votes.

The Hirschmann-Levasseur budget, however, would only require eight votes, since it would not necessitate an override.

Still, Gatsas has veto power over any of the budget proposals, and a 10-vote majority is required to override a veto.

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