Aldermen pass tax-cap compliant budget

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A bird’s eye view of the Aldermanic Chambers on June 8, 2021. Aldermen Hirschmann (Ward 12), Roy (Ward 4), Levasseur (At-Large) and Shaw (Ward 9) participated remotely. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

MANCHESTER, N.H. – It’s official: Manchester’s general fund bottom line for Fiscal Year 2022 will be $162,545,854.

The Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved that figure in a 9-4 vote, along with FY’ 22 appropriations of $173,111,686 for the Manchester School District and other appropriations for several other funds in a separate 9-4 vote.

The approximately $162 million figure was one of three options before the board and took the Mayor Joyce Craig’s budget, which is bound to be within the city tax cap under the city charter and adds unexpected revenues from outside taxes such as parking fees, car registrations and such that were not anticipated at the time of the mayor’s initial projections several months ago.

The second option would have required an override of the 1.87 percent tax cap on the expenditure side of the tax cap with a figure of $163,354,457. The majority of this additional expenditure would be placed into the city’s contingency fund. Supporters of this option said that the additional money would be needed to meet constituent expectations for city services. With an expected $73 million in new property valuation expected to be confirmed by the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration later this year by the city’s assessing and finance departments, the figure would have actually resulted in a lower tax rate if the expected valuation increase becomes a reality.

“It says something to the people willing to invest $73 million into the city that we are willing to invest in them as well,” said Alderman Kevin Cavanaugh (Ward 1).

Opponents of the second option, such as Alderman Keith Hirschmann (Ward 12) noted that the $73 million figure is not certain and feared that it would become a tax increase on the city’s residents

“This has been a very hard year on everyone, many folks are still just hanging on,” said Hirschmann.

The third option would have been the mayor’s default budget of $161,873,287.

Alderman Anthony Sapienza (Ward 5) said that sober houses, also known as congregate living facilities, are one of the most significant issues facing constituents in his ward and the inability to hire a new code enforcement officer to investigate congregate living facilities not meeting city ordinance and state law was a non-starter for him.

Additionally, he noted that the code enforcement officer proposed to be hired by the city’s Planning and Development Department would actually generate revenue for the city by issuing citations to congregate living facilities and other building occupants and developers that violate city ordinances, making the need to fill that position even more necessary given that the loss of revenue from that employee would need to come from taxpayers instead if they are not hired.

The third option never came to a vote. The second option needed a supermajority given that it would override the city’s tax cap, with a supermajority amounting to nine members of the board given the vacancy in Ward 8 following the resignation of Michael Porter earlier this year. A motion in favor of the second option only mustered support from eight Aldermen, with Hirschmann, Jim Roy (Ward 4), Sebastian Sharonov (Ward 6), Ross Terrio (Ward 7), and Joseph Kelly Levasseur (At-Large) voting in opposition.

A vote for the first option as well as approval for the other fund appropriations saw each of the Aldermen voting the same way except for Terrio, who joined the majority in support.

According to Craig’s office, the acceptance of the first option changes the property tax rate from $24.66 to $25.12 per thousand dollars of property valuation.

Dan O’Neil (At-Large) also made a motion to alter the city’s dispersement of surplus revenue. Normally, surplus revenue is split evenly into three buckets: the city’s rainy day fund, the city’s employee severance fund and tax relief. However, given the need of at least an additional $1.4 million in the severance fund, O’Neil moved to split the $2.928,500 projected surplus with a third going to tax relief ($976,166.67) and two thirds going to severance ($1,952,333.33).

If this motion had failed, Mayor Craig indicated that city department would have to account for the $1.4 million or more out of their own budgets, resulting in layoffs and the suspension of new hires, which again was a non-starter for Sapienza on the issue of the code enforcement officer.

Manchester Finance Department Director Sharon Wickens said that the rainy day fund currently has $12 million and has not been touched for several years, with the amount adequate in the eyes of municipal credit rating bureaus.

The Aldermen supported this measure 12-1, with only Hirschmann voting in opposition.

Levasseur made a motion to move $1 million from the Manchester School District budget into contingency, but Alderman Pat Long (Ward 3) and Craig noted that figure on top of the already passed first option would require another override vote, with Levasseur voting against the override vote needed for the second option. Levasseur’s motion did not receive a second.

Mayor Craig was pleased with the passage of the first option following the meeting.

“”I commend the aldermen who proactively developed a budget to meet the needs of our community. The FY22 budget that was approved tonight takes into consideration the financial constraints so many residents are facing, while making strategic investments to move our community forward,” she said. “Manchester is a community with boundless potential. In the last year, we’ve endured challenges some of us never thought possible. With this budget, we are beginning to rebuild. There’s more work to do, and I know by working together, we can recover from COVID-19 and continue to build a solid foundation for our city.”

In addition to the additional $313,689 going to the city’s contingency fund and the $47,000 for the code enforcement officer that would not have been appropriated if the first option had failed, the mayor also noted several other items such as, but not limited to

  • $88,920 for a telecommunications supervisor for the Manchester Police Department
  • $88,000 for new police uniforms
  • $28,416 for dues to the New Hampshire Municipal Association
  • $76,164 for membership in the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission.

Alderman Sharonov also released a statement following the vote, voicing frustration that federal relief funding to recoup losses for cities like Manchester from COVID-related revenue shortfalls and is not subject to tax cap considerations was not taken into account.

“I am pleased that the fiscally conservative wing of the Board upheld the tax cap by voting down Option Two, which called for a revenue override – in a revaluation year nevertheless – all while being sold as a tax rate cutting option,” he said. “While Option One did not call for a tax cap override, I also voted “no” on principle. The amount of money appropriated for the Manchester Police Department over the Mayor’s budget is disappointing – only a fourth of what they asked for to respond to the urgent need of addressing rising crime levels. All while the School District, with declining student enrollment, will be practically swimming in money after millions in surplus as a result of federal and state grant and relief money. The money should have been taken out of the School District Appropriation and given to the Manchester Police Department.”