MANCHESTER, NH – If you aren’t a mathematician, a labor attorney, a grammarian, or devotee of Zig Ziglar, you may have gotten lost at some point in the budget back-and-forth during Tuesday’s special meeting of the Board of Aldermen. But in the end, the board clawed their way to a consensus and voted 11-3 in favor of a $342 million budget (see below) mapped out by Board Chair Dan O’Neil.
Aldermen Keith Hirschmann, Joe Levasseur and Elizabeth Moreau cast dissenting votes.
Mayor Joyce Craig commended the board for making “tough decisions” and working to find common ground by coming up with two alternative budgets to the one she proposed in April, which she had described as a starting place.
“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. We still face many challenges, but I look forward to continue working with the Aldermen, department heads, and our entire community to create positive change and achieve a brighter future for Manchester,” Craig said in a prepared statement released following the meeting.
O’Neil’s budget reduces the mayor’s proposed tax rate by 5 cents, down to 23.65, and provides the school district with $169,431,905 – a $2,424,000 increase over last year’s funding. The school budget was passed by a unanimous voice vote.
O’Neil thanked his fellow board members for taking the time to sit down with him over the past few weeks, noting that his budget reflected initiatives endorsed by all 14 of his colleagues in some way or another.
Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschmann also presented an alternative budget (see below), which only gained traction with four aldermen – Hirschmann, Levasseur, Moreau, and Alderman Barbara Shaw.
Based on comments by board members, it seemed O’Neil’s collaborative leg work resulted in a budget that a majority was satisfied with.
Alderman Will Stewart told Hirschmann that he did not appreciate learning “you had a budget Sunday at 8 a.m. and that we were going to vote on it tonight,” to which Hirschmann said if Stewart had been paying attention, he would have known of his intention to craft a budget.
“My style is more Zig Ziglar than it is the Sandler Sales institute. It’s the friendly, touchy approach, not the pushy approach,” Hirschmann said, to which Stewart responded, “I’m not all that familiar with your ’80s sales technique references, and I have heard you talking since April 1, doing a lot of talking, as a lot of people do. But I haven’t seen any evidence of that.”
Moreau voiced concern that neither of the two alternative budget plans were made available to residents prior to the meeting, and suggested an ordinance requiring all alternative budgets should be submitted well in advance of when they are due.
“That way the public can see the budgets. Not a lot of people in Manchester have seen the budgets,” Moreau said. “I know Alderman O’Neil emailed his, but why don’t we have print outs? Why isn’t the public aware of it?”
Alderman Kevin Cavanaugh said the tax cap should not drive opinion on the budget. He said his constituents want improvement with the city’s opioid problem, schools, and public safety.
“Our Little Leagues need help, we have tracks that need repair, people complain all the time about why don’t we repave things instead of filling potholes,” Cavanaugh said. “I support this budget but … in talking with department heads, they can’t do the services we want them to do, those are questions and concerns I get. Constituents are saying we need the city to step up.”
Both O’Neil and Hirschmann pointed out that the final numbers have been a moving target, and both aldermen worked closely with department heads and the city finance department to track revenue sources as they were identified through 2018 surpluses.
In addition to the budget discussion, a series of amendments were proposed as outlined by Alderman John Cataldo that would begin to adjust the city’s Yarger/Decker pay scale. However at some point the board agreed that at least one of the amendments required more thought – and punctuation – due to possible legal ramifications for union negotiations, and it was referred to HR committee.
* Reduces the tax rate by 5 cents from the default tax cap budget from $23.70 to $23.65, resulting in a 1.42 percent increase rather than a 1.63 percent increase
* Makes the first systemic change to the city’s Yarger/Decker pay scale for new non-affiliated employees in decades
* Makes substantial changes to employee benefit package offered to new non-affiliated employees
* Provides funding for potential reinstatement of raises for non-affiliated employees, and affiliated employees, subject to negotiations
* Increases funding to schools by $2,424,400 over last year’s budget
* Provides $1.1 million to cover severance payments
* Funds an additional domestic violence prosecutor
* Includes $3.5 million to fund Mechanical Equipment Replacement program
* Funds the Right of Way Road Reconstruction program, which will result in 52 miles of streets receiving upgrades or treatments over the next year
* Includes $1.5 million for city-wide technology upgrades over the next 4 years
* Includes funding for Southern NH Planning Commission
* Uses surplus funds from the state to improve and make repairs to bridges, alleys, and the city’s sidewalk/curb program
* Includes over $3 million in federal funds to:
-Upgrade streets, sidewalks and municipal lighting
-Improve housing conditions in rental properties through the City’s Concentrated Code Enforcement Program
* Modernize the City’s Master Plan
* Support the Police Department’s Weed and Seed Officer and Saturday Teen Night
* Support Parks & Recreation’s Fun-in-the-Sun program
* Create a new Facade Improvement/Business Code Compliance matching grant program for businesses
* Support rapid rehousing program, prevention services, emergency shelter for homeless and at-risk homeless families and low income tenant assistance
The budget sheet below compares Mayor Craig’s original budget with Alderman Dan O’Neil’s budget.
Below is Alderman Hirschmann’s budget as compared to the mayor’s originally proposed budget.