Pension worries dominate public hearing on Nashua budget
NASHUA — Several residents expressed frustration Tuesday over the city’s high pension costs during a public hearing on the mayor’s proposed budget.
Mayor Jim Donchess is proposing a $301,470,669 fiscal year 2018 budget, which represents about a 4 percent increase over the existing budget. If approved by aldermen without any changes, the proposed spending plan would increase the tax rate by about 3.2 percent.
Donchess’ budget includes more than $6 million in expenses he described as mandated by the state or other entities — specifically a $2.3 million increase in pension costs, $3.6 million increase in health care and a sizeable increase from Pennichuck Corp.
“The amount of money that we are paying in pensions to people are way higher than many people’s regular salaries in the private sector,” said Christina McKinley of Southgate Drive.
She said the blame for the high pension costs cannot be solely placed on the New Hampshire State Retirement System.
“It is not acceptable to say that the problems that are in our town now can’t be addressed because they are controlled by the state. I think that is unacceptable,” said McKinley.
Former Alderman Fred Teeboom said aldermen are approving union contracts with unacceptable conditions that have contributed to high pension costs being paid for by local citizens, specifically noting Alderman Mike O’Brien who retired from Nashua Fire Rescue as deputy chief and is now collecting a sizable pension.
“We have been talking about the pension problems for many months now,” said Donchess, stressing the city does not negotiate pensions.
Former Alderman Paula Johnson questioned a nearly $20,000 pay raise for Kim Kleiner, assistant to the mayor. According to the budget proposal, Kleiner’s title would become chief of staff, and her salary would increase from $62,000 to about $82,000.
“Only in government can this happen,” said Johnson.
Donchess explained that in order to restructure the position that reflects Kleiner’s level of responsibility, which includes guiding city policy and functioning as a division director, a separate messenger position was eliminated to compensate for the difference, resulting in a savings of around $30,000.
Although the proposed budget is within the spending cap, according to Chief Financial Officer John Griffin, Teeboom and current Alderman-at-Large Dan Moriarty have filed separate lawsuits against the city, claiming the mayor is violating the city charter because of an ordinance recently enacted that removed $9.1 million of the city’s wastewater costs from the general fund.
Teeboom and Moriarty claim that the change allows the mayor to increase the 2018 budget by about $9 million above what the charter allows without a vote by at least 10 aldermen to override the spending cap.
“The cost to Nashua taxpayers is enormous … My tax bill now is $7,000, and I am retired,” stressed Teeboom, adding not everyone is enthused about implementing full-day kindergarten and relocating more jobs to the Gate City.
Donchess contended that if Nashua wants to be a growing, vibrant community that can be successful in the future, as many jobs as possible should be brought to the city; he also supports full-day kindergarten at all elementary schools in the city.
The school department’s proposed budget of $141.4 million is up 1.9 percent, or nearly $3.6 million, and would enable full-day kindergarten to be implemented throughout Nashua.