LESS THAN a month after warning Manchester would face a budget deficit of more than $2 million because of the coronavirus pandemic, city finance director Bill Sanders now projects an operating surplus of $648,537 in Fiscal Year 2020.

The surplus results from an expense savings of $3,193,537 against an anticipated revenue deficit of $2,545,000, Sanders said.

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The positive expense number includes $479,000 from the contingency account and $291,027 in anticipated FEMA reimbursement — at 75% — as well as $475,447 in anticipated reimbursement for COVID-19 related costs from the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery.

Revenues from the tax collector’s office are expected to be $2 million below budget, parking division revenues are projected to come in $950,000 below budget, and Parks and Recreation revenues are expected to be $300,000 below budget.

After Sanders issued his revised forecast, Mayor Joyce Craig credited city staff for the reversal in fortune.

“This is in large part due to the hard work of our department heads in managing their budgets and maximizing revenue opportunities while holding vacancies and freezing non-essential spending,” Craig said. “We must remain cautious as we move forward, and I’m optimistic as we head into the last month of the fiscal year. We’re facing an unprecedented and difficult time, and we will face financial challenges in FY’21.

”That said, we will continue to work diligently to respond to this pandemic while continuing to plan for the future.”

Dan O’Neil, chair of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, said last week he intends to make a recommendation on an interim finance director for the board to consider at its June 2 meeting.

Once that person is in place, human resources director Kathy Ferguson will start the recruitment process for a new finance director.

Sanders previously announced he intends to retire June 19.

Special budget meeting

From June through September, board members adopt a summer schedule, meeting once a month on the first Monday. With only one meeting scheduled for June, At Large member Joe Kelly Levasseur asked whether board members would be voting on a budget at the June 2 session.

O’Neil said he and Pat Long of Ward 3 have been working on a budget.

“It would be my recommendation to the board...we have until Tuesday, June 9, to pass a budget, if we can push it out to that date, we’ll speak with Bill (Sanders),” O’Neil said.

“As you can see, in two weeks, the financial situation has changed. Even if you took out the state money, we’d still have a little bit of an issue, but not the issue we had two weeks ago or four weeks ago. My recommendation is we have budget discussions June 9. That gives us a chance to get up-to-date budget projections on where we’re at.”

Looks like you can circle June 9 on your calendars for a special meeting on the FY 2021 budget.

Who controls tax cap?

The Manchester school district charter commission held a public hearing on its list of recommended revisions, with some of the most interesting comments of the night coming from Superintendent of Schools John Goldhardt.

Goldhardt, who submitted his comments via email ahead of the hearing, questioned letting the Board of Mayor and Aldermen have control over the tax cap.

“Letting the BMA be the only elected body that has the vote overriding the tax cap puts too much power in one group of elected officials,” Goldhardt wrote. “This type of power leads to power plays between the elected school board and the BMA, which, in my opinion, leads to bad government, lack of transparency, and possible corruption.”

Goldhardt lamented that not granting school board members such authority perpetuates a “lesser than” role of the Board of School Committee, where instead the role of elected board members should be “elevated.”

“The assumption of only letting the BMA have override authority is that only the BMA can be trusted to do so,” Goldhardt wrote. “If this is the case, then who watches over the BMA? The other assumption is that the Board of Education will be haphazard with overriding the tax cap, so they need an additional obstacle to do so.

“There will be just as much difficulty, questioning, and political pressures on the school board concerning the tax cap as there is with the BMA. Ultimately, the citizens/voters should be left with the decision as to whether or not their School Board members should be overriding the tax cap at the ballot box — not the BMA.”

He also raised concerns over removing the mayor from the current school board, which numbers 15.

“There have been several votes that have been decided by one vote,” Goldhardt wrote. “With 14 board members, there will be the possibility of multiple tied votes, which then results in no action.”

Goldhardt suggested either eliminating one at-large seat to reduce the board to 13 members or adding an additional at-large seat to make the board 15 members.

“Those who are elected in wards have to win a majority of the votes because in the final election, the choice is between two candidates,” Goldhardt wrote. “This is not the case with at-large. At-large candidates win a plurality of votes and not a majority because there are multiple candidates to choose from. Thus, a final election in a ward will generally result with the winner getting 51% or more of the vote, but an at-large winner can get 30% or less of the vote.”

Goldhardt recommended at-large seats be designated “At-large seat A” and “At large seat B.” When a person files to run for at-large, he or she designates seat A or seat B, allowing voters in the final election to choose two candidates for each seat so that the winner has a true majority of votes.

Goldhardt also recommended a change to the charter putting ownership of school buildings in the hands of the school district.

“If a school is closed, the district should be able to sell the property and use the money as they wish — since they paid for it to begin with,” Goldhardt wrote.

Back to ‘live mode’

Last week some aldermen broached the topic of meeting in person again in June. The board has been meeting remotely since late March.

Ward 8’s Mike Porter suggested Memorial High School and the large auditorium there, to “get back into that live mode.”

“It’s something that (City Clerk) Matt Normand and I have been talking about,” Craig said. “We have to make sure we work with the health department to make sure the distancing is safe, we can have department heads there that need to be there and the public can get to our meeting. So if we can do it, yes.”

Craig cautioned that if a meeting is held outside City Hall, the session won’t be streamed live by Manchester Community television.

“I think we all want to try to get to the point where we can meet in person,’ Craig said. “It’s just more productive.”

Stipends for first responders

Aldermen voted last week to accept funds for police and firefighters available through the New Hampshire First Responder COVID-19 Stipend Program established by Gov. Chris Sununu.

The program authorizes a $300-per-week stipend for first responders for the period of May 4 through June 30.

On the police side, Chief Carlo Capano recommended payments be made to 238 full-time officers and 26 part-time reserve officers. The full-time officers would receive $300 weekly, and the part-time reserve officers would receive $150 weekly, for a total of $623,914. The $623,914 available for police through the program will be received in one lump sum, Capano told board members.

Fire Chief Dan Goonan reported his department has 203 members who would qualify for the full-time weekly stipend, with total pay of $504,600 during the eligibility period. The funding for the stipend and any payroll-related taxes will come from the federal CARES Act money.

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at pfeely@unionleader.com

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