MANCHESTER — Aldermen have voted to approve a $353 million fiscal year 2020 budget that overrides the tax cap to earmark an additional $6.6 million in funds for city schools.
The budget, authored by Board of Mayor and Aldermen Chairman Dan O’Neil, provides $176 million for schools and $156.6 million for city services.
In a tax-cap budget presented this spring, Mayor Joyce Craig allocated an additional $4.3 million to the Manchester School District, the most funding allocated to the district in 14 years.
On Monday, city aldermen adopted a budget that includes an additional $2.3 million to city schools, for a total of $6.6 million in additional school funding over the last fiscal year.
“When I presented my budget back in March, I said it was a starting point,” said Craig. “Over the last few months, Alderman O’Neil, along with many aldermen, have worked on alternate budgets that built upon what I presented. This is not an easy process. I want to thank the aldermen for working hard on coming up with a budget that best addresses the needs of our city. No budget is perfect, but what is most important is that we found common ground.”
Craig went on to praise the board for approving a boost in school funding.
“I’m hopeful that this increase will help get us toward a timely resolution to contracts with our teachers and other educators,” Craig said. “Our educators deserve a fair contract and I’m committed, along with many of my colleagues, to finding a resolution as soon as possible. I look forward to working with this board, the school board, department heads and our employees to use the funds allocated in this budget to make our city, our school district and our community stronger.”
The voter-approved tax cap allows for a 2.03 percent tax increase next fiscal year, but O’Neil’s tops that by 1.26 percent, operating at a 3.29 percent tax hike.
This marks the fourth straight year aldermen have voted to override the tax cap.
The key vote sending more money to schools was 10-4. In favor were aldermen Kevin Cavanaugh, Will Stewart, Tim Baines, Chris Herbert, Tony Sapienza, Bill Shea, Barbara Shaw, Bill Barry, Normand Gamache, and O’Neil. Opposed were Keith Hirschmann, Elizabeth Moreau, John Cataldo and Joe Kelly Levasseur.
Craig declined to veto the board’s vote, citing the 10-4 vote. Ten votes are needed to override any veto by the mayor.
Republican former state Rep. Victoria Sullivan, Craig’s lone challenger for mayor at the moment, issued a statement saying she was disappointed in her opponent’s decision not to veto, calling it “unacceptable.”
“Rather than standing up for blue-collar families in Manchester who cannot afford higher taxes, she failed to lead once again,” Sullivan said in a statement. “Instead of vetoing it, she just sat back, worked backroom deals, and allowed a budget that overrides the city’s voter-approved tax cap to be passed before her. By lifting the tax cap and increasing taxes, the floodgates are now open to force our seniors and the most vulnerable among us to spend more for a city government that is already not living up to the expectations of voters. When elected mayor, I pledge to keep taxes low and fight to ensure that the integrity of our city’s tax cap is not violated.”
NHGOP Chairman Stephen Stepanek released a statement accusing Craig of “actively trying to deceive Manchester taxpayers.”
“Her support for a budget that explodes the tax cap and increases Manchester taxes by 3.29% will hurt Manchester families and businesses,” said Stepanek. “While the Board of Aldermen worked behind the scenes to increase city taxes, Mayor Craig spent weeks campaigning and meeting with Democrat presidential candidates. This isn’t leadership. Joyce Craig passing the buck to others will lead to a tax increase, and the people of Manchester deserve better this November.”
State Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley responded by referring to Sullivan’s statement on the budget vote as “political posturing.”
“Victoria Sullivan has ‘pledged’ to make cuts to this budget, but what are they? The only plan that Victoria Sullivan and Republicans have suggested they support is to divert funding from Manchester public education and instead provide coupons to residents to pay for expensive private schools,” Buckley said. “Manchester families deserve serious plans to make much-needed investments in education, and that’s what Manchester’s budget provides.”
”Manchester residents are getting less and less for more and more money,” said Tammy Simmons, chair of the Manchester Republican Committee. “Joyce Craig may say we just can’t keep going back to the taxpayers year after year but her actions show that is exactly what her version of leadership looks like. Manchester voters should remember this in November.”
School board vice chair Art Beaudry said he was “extremely happy” with the budget vote.
“With the downshifting that has transpired from the state in the last four or five years we needed these additional resources,” said Beaudry. “The school district is in dire straits financially. I understand those who like the tax cap but you have to fund education. Realtors tell me when people talk about buying a house in Manchester, the first thing they ask about is the schools. This is the prudent thing to do.”
Earlier in the meeting aldermen cast the same 10-4 vote to override the revenue cap.
“To not address the needs of the schools is putting your head in the sand,” said Sapienza.
“I don’t like going over the tax cap more than anyone else, but the schools in this city are on a roll,” said Shaw. “I don’t think that this small amount (of an override) is a major issue.”
”The budget passed by the Board of Mayor Alderman on Monday night addresses critical challenges facing our city,” said Ward 1 Alderman Kevin Cavanaugh. “By including the largest increase in education funding in 14 years, this budget takes steps in providing the resources our schools and teachers need to ensure every Manchester student can receive a quality public education.”
”For the second consecutive budget cycle we were faced with a reality of our teachers being out of contract,” said Ward 3 Alderman Tim Baines. “Others can assign the blame if they so choose but in facing this reality, it was imperative that we provided the school district with the funds needed to settle these contracts. The collateral damage this stalemate has caused is troubling, and needs resolution immediately. While this was a tough vote, I believe it was the only vote if we want our city to prosper.”
”I am very proud of the work that the aldermen put in to crafting the budget that passed last night,” said Ward 11 school board member Katie Desrochers. “The tax cap is an important safeguard in protecting the taxpayers from overspending and needless waste. The 10-vote veto override option is a very important function because it allows the city to keep a check and balance without depriving the budget of necessary funds. I am so very thankful that the school district has been allocated the extra money. It will go far in allowing us to settle the outstanding contracts.”