Aldermen discuss MHT, schools and hotel surcharge

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There was more to Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting than just bathrooms and bids. Here are a few  of the highlights.

MHT: What Will It Be?

The Aldermen regretfully accepted the retirement of Manchester-Boston Regional Airport director Mark Brewer and asked each other what the airport might become in the future.

Alderman Keith Hirschmann hoped Brewer’s replacement can be an outsider that will help grow the airport into a much more significant transportation facility, Alderman Christopher Herbert recommended more muted expectations.

Hebert shared insights gained as a legislator on the complex nature of the airline industry in New England, citing the recent loss of some Southwest Airlines flights from MHT.

“My view is that nobody’s going to hit a home run coming in here, because we’re just not the biggest guys in the block,” he said.

A nationwide search for Brewer’s replacement has begun, with a starting salary put at approximately $155,000.

Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur on Feb. 6, 2018 (credit – Andrew Sylvia)

The Future of Manchester Education

The matter of SB 193 returned to the board following concerns from Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur asking for more information on the legislation.

Specifically, his concerns arose from the lack of a non-partisan analysis presented on the bill. Mayor Joyce Craig responded that the available information on the bill is either in support or opposition, with no neutral voices available due to the bill’s divisive nature.

Opponents of the bill such as Craig and Herbert claimed that its passage would seriously harm the financial standing of Manchester’s public schools, with Herbert adding that it was merely a way to circumvent New Hampshire’s constitutional prohibition against public money being used for educational instruction.

Others on the board, such as Hirschmann, Levasseur and Elizabeth Moreau were skeptical, believing that more should be done to give parents more choice in the education of their children.

Levasseur and Hirschmann also were skeptical that the legislation would financially harm Manchester if it became law, believing that more must be done to tout the strength of Manchester’s schools.

Manchester School District superintendent Bolgen Vargas told the board that the legislation was just a smaller piece of a much larger movement to force local schools into untenable financial situations.

While Vargas defended the district against allegations he was not doing enough to promote Manchester’s schools, he also noted that much work needed to be done and that the issue of public school finances is being felt throughout most parts of the state.

Later in the meeting, Levasseur also asked for a delay on a decision that would move the administration’s offices into a vacant part of West High School.

A presentation on possible redistricting options for Manchester’s schools is expected at the next Board of School Committee meeting on Feb. 12.

Hotel Local Option Tax Letter

Herbert asked the board to draft a letter in support of HB 1609, legislation that would let municipalities levy local hotel surcharges on the room and meals tax.

According to Herbert, the local surcharge would be placed on the shoulders of non-Manchester residents and bring several thousand dollars each day into the municipal budget.

Support for the letter passed with a 10-3 roll call, with Hirschmann, Levasseur and John Cataldo voting in opposition. Barbara Shaw was absent and did not vote.