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Paul Feely's City Hall: Lots of love in the room when it's budget presentation time

By PAUL FEELY
February 11. 2017 9:08PM
Dr. Bolgen Vargas (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER FILE)

ALL EYES WILL BE ON City Hall this week with two important fiscal year 2018 budget presentations scheduled on either side of Valentine's Day.

First up, Dr. Bolgen Vargas, superintendent of schools, unveils his budget Monday at 7 p.m. in the aldermanic chambers in City Hall. Then the curtain goes up on Wednesday at 6 p.m. on Mayor Ted Gatsas' proposed budget.

The basic numbers in Vargas' first budget as Manchester superintendent came into view late last week when documents were posted at the school district's website. His rollover budget figure of $170 million requires $2.9 million in cuts to come in under the city's 1.2 percent tax cap at $167 million. A few of the main factors driving increases in the rollover budget are $1.2 million more in salaries, $2.1 million in additional employee benefits, and $1.1 million in professional and technical services.

A rollover budget involves the incremental extension of the existing budget model, due to existing contractual obligations such as step or cost of living allowances.

So, the rollover budget includes no added positions, no new programs, it's simply the existing budget with any contractual increases factored in. That's the number that Vargas must start with and make reductions from in order to reach the tax cap amount.

Factor in a level-funded appropriation of $165 million, and the $1.98 million in cuts needed to be chopped from that number, and the total amount of reductions comes in closer to $4.9 million.

Exactly where those cuts are being proposed won't be revealed until Vargas gives his presentation Monday night.

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Among the highlights of last week's report on the city's response to the opioid crisis were the final numbers for the Safe Station program.

In the seven months following the program's launch on May 4, 976 people sought help through the program. Of those, 739 were first-time - nonrepeat - participants.

By far, the majority of people seeking help at the safe stations are from Manchester - 342 residents.

The numbers that jump out the most are the residents of other communities who headed to the Queen City seeking help. Manchester Fire Department statistics show 37 came from Nashua; 20 from Concord; 17 from Salem; 15 from Rochester; 14 each from Derry and Laconia; and 12 from Londonderry. Twenty-three people came from Massachusetts, and one each came from Birmingham, Ala.; Mesa, Ariz.; and Meriden, Conn.

Last month alone, individuals from 44 New Hampshire communities visited Manchester's Safe Stations - that represents nearly 20 percent of all New Hampshire municipalities, with individuals coming from all 10 New Hampshire counties.

The numbers caught the eye of Gatsas and other city officials.

"Ald. (Pat) Long, Ald. (Bill) Barry and I met with (Health Director) Tim Soucy to review this report," said Gatsas. "As we discussed the observations for the most recent Safe Station statistics Ald. Barry commented, 'Everyone thinks Manchester is ground zero. That's not necessarily true. This is an issue for every community and what Manchester has done is come together to offer services to help people.' I could not agree more and I think that's the story those Safe Station numbers continue to tell us. Manchester is a community where we offer a hand up, not a hand out. That's who we are and who we will always be."

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Word is Gatsas will coach a team of Queen City hoopsters against the Harlem Wizards this Friday at 7 p.m. at Manchester High School West. Tickets can be purchased online at www.harlemwizards.com.

Wonder if he prefers zone or man?

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The Trustees of the Trust Funds meet tomorrow morning, and a letter to city aldermen appears on the agenda. The letter warns the unfunded liability of the city's Old System Retirement Pension (OSRP) has almost doubled, and trustees believe without additional contributions from the city the system will be depleted in 2024, based on current assumptions that include an annual return on investment of 5 percent.

The OSRP is the pension plan for city employees prior to 1974. In 1974, employees were permitted to remain in OSRP or enroll in the new plan. As of June 30, 2016, there were 94 retired employees and four active employees remaining in the OSRP.

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The deadline to file papers to fill the vacant state representative seat in District 44 held by the late Andy Martel came and went last Friday, and reports out of the city clerk's office are that there weren't many takers.

Martel died Dec. 22, 2016, at Catholic Medical Center. He was elected seven times as a member of the New Hampshire General Court, from 1998 until 2016; five times to the House of Representatives and twice to the state Senate. He represented Hillsborough County District 44, which includes Manchester wards 8 and 9, as well as the town of Litchfield.

As of Friday's deadline, three candidates had filed papers to run for the seat.Former District 44 state Rep.Mark McLean, a Republican from Ward 8, Jim Morin, a Democrat from Ward 9, both in Manchester, and Republican George Lambert of Litchfield. The general election is May 23.

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In just a couple of weeks, the city's Office of Youth services will present Winterfest 2017. The event, which runs from Feb. 25 through March 5, will once again feature a variety of events and activities for kids.

This year the event will feature Public Ice Skating at JFK Memorial Coliseum from Feb. 27 to March 3, 2-4 p.m.; an introduction to disc golf at the Beech Street School Feb. 27; a 3-on-3 basketball tourney Feb. 28 to March 2; and a free-throw contest on March 3 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Beech Street School.

For more information, contact Erik Bukowski at ebu kowski@manchesternh.gov.

A reminder - the Office of Youth Services has moved to 848 Elm St., so when passes are made available for events, they must be picked up at the new location, Suite 302 on the third floor of 848 Elm St., the former McQuade's building.

Staff reporter Paul Feely covers Manchester City Hall for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Email: pfeely@unionleader.com.


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