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Manchester aldermen approve $342m budget, overriding tax cap again

By PAUL FEELY
New Hampshire Union Leader

June 12. 2018 10:53PM


MANCHESTER — Aldermen approved a $342 million fiscal year 2019 budget that busted the tax cap to earmark $1.25 million in additional funds for schools and $480,000 more on the city side.

Chairman Dan O’Neil authored the compromise that gave Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bolgen Vargas an additional $1.25 million more he asked for, and set aside $2 million of city money in a contingency fund that aldermen can dole out at a later date.

The voter-approved tax cap allows for a 1.63 percent tax increase next fiscal year, but O’Neil’s tops that by .71 percent, operating at a 2.34 percent tax hike.

The key vote sending more money to schools was 11-3. In favor were aldermen Kevin Cavanaugh, Will Stewart, Tim Baines, Chris Herbert, Tony Sapienza, Bill Shea, John Cataldo, Barbara Shaw, Bill Barry, Normand Gamache, and O’Neil. Opposed were Keith Hirschmann, Elizabeth Moreau, and Joe Kelly Levasseur.

Another adjustment O’Neil made to the mayor’s budget was a $150,000 drop in revenue the city gets from the city clerk’s department, while anticipating a additional $500,000 in revenue from the tax collectors office, and $130,000 from planning. The budget also earmarks an additional $88,000 for the highway department.

“I felt adding to contingency was very critical,” said O’Neil.

Alderman Catalado of Ward 8, viewed by political observers as a key vote in the budget debate, has taken heat on social media for being open to overriding the tax cap in some circumstances.

During his campaign for alderman last fall, Cataldo responded to a question about the tax cap posed by the Union Leader by saying, “I do not support overriding the tax cap to fund salary increases. Overriding the tax cap outside of reasons of public safety breaks faith with Manchester taxpayers and voters who voted for it. I fully support our school and city employees and believe they deserve raises, but we must do it responsibly.”

“How can we ever get out of the starting gate if we don’t compromise,” said Cataldo Tuesday night. “I understand people will be upset with me. I will bear that burden. What good is saying no just for the sake of saying no. The essence of American democracy is engaging the opposition.”

“I don’t think we should be putting money in contingency for negotiated employee contracts,” said Levasseur.

“Even with an override of the revenue we’re talking about a tax rate that’s at least five percent lower for the residents,” said Shaw. “I think at this point that overriding the revenue part is not going to harm my residents. I will support this budget and override of the revenue cap because we don’t have any other choice. We can’t use the mayor’s budget.”

Officials with the city firefighter unions, currently in negotiations with the city on a new contract, commended the aldermen on the budget vote.

“This budget is a step forward for a safer and stronger Manchester,” said Robert Stemska, Local 856 Vice President and Brian Paquette, Local 856 Secretary-Treasurer in a statement. “Pending approval of IAFF Local 856 & 3820’s proposals, we look forward to presenting a respectable contract to Manchester’s firefighters and their families. After five years of constant negotiations and an ever-increasing call volume, all parties — employees, taxpayers, and elected officials — are overdue for a long-term agreement.”

Hirschmann submitted his own budget proposal, which operated within the 1.63 percent tax cap while allocating $188,000 in additional funds to the highway budget and $110,000 to the police department, while placing $760,000 in contingency.

“It was up to me to say I don’t want to override the tax cap,” said Hirschmann. “The roads are all posted for 65 mph. I’m driving 65 mph, but I’m certainly not doing 75 mph with this budget.”

Hirschmann’s budget, which also included $1.25 million in additional funding for city schools, was rejected on a roll call vote, with only Levasseur, Shaw, Moreau and Hirschmann voting in favor of it.

The mayor’s proposed FY 2019 budget came in at $338.6 million, with $152.8 million in spending on the city side and $168.1 million for the school district.

The Board of School Committee will decide how to spend the additional $1.25 million. Last month Vargas sent to O’Neil a list of priorities the board would add back in if given a dollar figure higher than the Craig budget.

According to that list, an additional $1.25 million in funding — the amount in the approved budget — includes four social workers at the middle school level, three social workers at the elementary school level, three intervention teachers, part-time health and physical education teachers at the Manchester School of Technology, and one full time EL paraprofessional position.

Craig issued a statement following the budget vote, thanking aldermen for their efforts.

“I want to thank the bipartisan supermajority of Aldermen who worked together to develop a budget that protects our taxpayers and moves our city forward," said Craig. "Manchester is stronger when we work together and that’s exactly what happened with this budget. We found common ground in making critical investments in our city while at the same time reducing the tax rate and protecting our residents’ hard-earned tax dollars. No budget is perfect and no compromise gives any one side everything they are looking for, yet this budget demonstrates a willingness to work together to solve our city’s problems."

pfeely@unionleader.com


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