Aldermen pass school budget without tax cap override

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MANCHESTER, N.H. – Manchester’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget is set and two attempts to override the expenditure cap have failed.

On Tuesday night, the Manchester Board of Aldermen passed a series of resolutions for the Fiscal Year 2021 budget, highlighted by $183,052,004 for the Manchester School District and $163,042,499 for the budgets of the city’s nearly two dozen other departments.

A motion was made by Ward 1 Alderman Kevin Cavanaugh to accept $3.5 million of the $7.5 million in State Adequate Education Aid sent by the state for the School District.

Mayor Joyce Craig already placed $4 million of the $7.5 million into her proposed budget, but could not add the other $3.5 million without going over the expenditure cap within Section 6.15 of the City Charter, half of what is better known as the city tax cap. That cap is based on a three-year average of the Consumer Price Index, which for the upcoming fiscal year would have allowed for growth of 2.1 percent.

Supporters of the motion argued that if the money was not taken, legislators in Concord would give Manchester less money in the future, assuming that any money given above the tax cap would not be used for its assigned purposes.

Opponents of the motion referenced economic hardships already faced by taxpayers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as economic uncertainty that may linger in upcoming months thanks to the pandemic, stating that Manchester taxpayers would potentially have to make up the gap for the new larger budget in future years if the state did not continue to provide the same level of support.

The motion needed 10 votes to pass but got only got seven in support coming from Cavanaugh, Ward 2 Alderman Will Stewart, Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long, Ward 5 Alderman Anthony Sapienza, Ward 10 Alderman Bill Barry, Ward 11 Alderman Normand Gamache, and At-Large Alderman Dan O’Neil.

The seven votes in opposition came from Ward 4 Alderman Jim Roy, Ward 6 Alderman Elizabeth Moreau, Ward 7 Alderman Ross Terrio, Ward 8 Alderman Michael Porter, Ward 9 Alderman Barbara Shaw, Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschmann and At-Large Alderman Joseph Kelly Levasseur.

The $3.5 million will now go toward reducing the city’s tax rate.

Sapienza followed the first motion by noting that the school district is receiving $1.29 million less in property tax appropriations for Fiscal Year 2021 while the city is receiving approximately $2 million more. Sapienza moved to restore this $1.29 million to the school budget above the mayor’s $183 million figure.

Since the mayor’s amount was right at the expenditure cap, Sapienza’s motion also needed 10 votes, but it got nine, with Porter and Shaw changing sides and the other Aldermen repeating their initial votes.

The mayor’s $183 million school budget passed 12-2, with Barry and Sapienza opposing.

Hirschmann made a motion to pass the city budget with an addition of approximately $153,000 to the city budget to fill two vacancies in the police department: an administrative assistant that serves the city’s approximately 50 detectives and a second animal control officer.

Supporters of the motion noted the need for these positions as well as the relatively small amount compared to the overall city budget while opponents noted the citywide government hiring freeze put in place after the beginning of the pandemic and that it would be inappropriate if one department was given special treatment. Opponents of the motion added that the police were actually receiving $2.2 million more overall compared to Fiscal Year 2020.

Here, the vote tied 7-7 with Roy, Moreau, Terrio, Porter, Shaw, Hirschmann and Levasseur in support. Mayor Craig cast her tie-breaking vote with a no, citing that 28 vacancies in 10 departments were in place to save money during the pandemic and the economic development committee remains without any salaried employees due to that freeze.

The mayor’s original budget was passed, again with her tie-breaking vote after another 7-7 deadlock. All of the “yes” votes on Hirschmann’s motions voted “no” here except for Shaw and vice versa, except for Sapienza who voted no on both measures.

The mayor’s reaction to the night was mixed.

“The FY21 budget that was approved tonight takes into consideration the financial constraints so many of us are facing,” she said in a statement. “And while I’m pleased we were able to pass a budget tonight, I am disappointed some Aldermen did not allocate the state funds earmarked for the Manchester School District.”

As one of the last acts before his upcoming retirement, Manchester Finance Director William Sanders released the final Fiscal Year 2020 General Fund expenditure and revenue forecast, predicting a final operating surplus of $1,682,300 when the fiscal year ends later this month.

Mayor Joyce Craig issued the following statement following Tuesday night’s meeting:

Good evening,

Tonight, the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen adopted the FY2021 Budget from Alderman Long and Alderman O’Neil by a vote of 8-7. In addition, today Finance Director William Sanders released the final FY2020 General Fund expenditure and revenue forecast, which predicts an operating surplus of $1,682,300.

After the passage of the budget, Mayor Joyce Craig released the following statement:
“I commend all of the aldermen who proactively put together a budget to meet the needs of our city. When I presented my budget at the end of March, the effects of COVID-19 were unknown. And while there are still many questions, it’s clear this pandemic has upended the lives of residents and businesses across our city.

Prior to COVID-19, Manchester’s fiscal health was strong. And for the last few months, we froze hiring and non-essential spending to account for a decrease in revenues. As a result of a lot of hard work, we’re ending the year with a projected $1.6 million dollar surplus.

The FY21 budget that was approved tonight takes into consideration the financial constraints so many of us are facing. And while I’m pleased we were able to pass a budget tonight, I am disappointed some Aldermen did not allocate the state funds earmarked for the Manchester School District.

Tomorrow is the 100th day COVID-19 has been in New Hampshire, and we still are unsure of the impacts it will continue to have on our economy. While things remain uncertain, we will continue to make responsible financial decisions and keep working in the best interest of our students, our residents, and our community.”

FY21 Alderman’s Budget Highlights:
– Maintains 28 vacancies to save $1,049,734 in salaries in the General Fund and approximately $690,000 in benefits across 10 departments
– Respects the revenue and expenditure cap by coming in at a .49% increase in property taxes, resulting in tax rate increasing $0.12 from $24.32 to $24.44
– Allocates $159,778,366 million to the city
– Allocates $183,052,004 million to the school district which is the Board of School Committee’s FY21 charter compliant budget
– Continues to utilize 1/3 of FY21 surplus to fund severance payments
– Includes funding for all existing collective bargaining contracts and salary agreements, both on the city and school district side, including the recently approved contract for Manchester educators

– Covers current programming and staff

– Invests $1.1 million in technology to improve infrastructure and increase access to devices

– Includes three days of professional development

– Invests $180,000 for one-time classroom supplies

– This budget bonds over $8 million for projects previously approved by the Board of School Committee including $1.3 million for the construction at McLaughlin/Hillside for grades 5-8 redistricting, $3 million for maintenance projects in school buildings, $2.5 million for the Memorial High School Athletic Complex Rehabilitation, including the track, synthetic field, tennis court, and more

– Incorporates the hiring of an Epidemiologist at the Health Department and an Emergency Operations Coordinator at the Fire Department, at no cost to local taxpayers thanks to a 3-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

– Combines expenses and revenues for Highway, Parks, and Facilities into a singular Department of Public Works, saving over $320,000 in FY21

– Covers all costs associated with the increase in Veterans’ Tax Credits, which were last adjusted over a decade ago

– Provides funding to hire 10 police officers

– Includes $14 million for bonded projects including:

o   $4 million to facilitate construction of the new road corridor connecting Elm Street to South Commercial Street

o   The construction of PickleBall Courts at Prout Park, a skateboarding half-pipe at Rock Rimmon, and full reconstruction of the Mill Girl stairs

o   $3.75 million to fund the Mechanical Equipment Replacement (MER) program, including a new fire ladder truck

o   $3.9 million toward the FY21 Road Plan which will result in 36.7 miles of streets receiving upgrades or surface treatments

o   $424,000 to begin our required property tax year 2021 revaluation

o   Invests $600,000 in improving city sidewalks, school sidewalks, and making more sidewalks ADA compliant. This includes the 50/50 residential program and implementation of a new public/private sidewalk replacement program for commercial property owners

– Includes funding for Southern NH Planning Commission

– Allocates the $2.8 million in federal funds via Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), HOME funds and Emergency Solutions funds as follows:

o   Provides $1 million in federal funds for homelessness prevention and affordable housing

o   Includes $460,000 of unallocated HOME funds to assist with upcoming projects focused on increasing affordable housing

o   Invests $471,000 in federal funds for youth-related programs such as the Boys & Girls Club, the Palace Theatre, the Granite YMCA, Girls at Work, QC Bike Collective, City Year, and more

o   Funds Phase III, and the completion of Rock Rimmon Park

About Andrew Sylvia 2022 Articles
Born and raised in the Granite State, Andrew Sylvia has written approximately 10,000 pieces over his career for outlets across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. On top of that, he's a licensed notary and license to sell property, casualty and life insurance, he's been a USSF trained youth soccer and futsal referee for the past six years and he can name over 60 national flags in under 60 seconds according to that flag game app he has on his phone, which makes sense because he also has a bachelor's degree in geography (like Michael Jordan). He can also type over 100 words a minute on a good day.