Ruais discusses city issues during Ward 1 meeting

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Mayor Jay Ruais on Feb. 15, 2024. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

MANCHESTER, NH – On Thursday night, Manchester Mayor Jay Ruais invited the public for a town hall-style meeting for Ward 1, located inside the Webster Elementary School gymnasium.

Here is a recap of what was discussed.

Homelessness and Housing

The mayor stated that 15 city-owned properties have been identified to help aid with the city’s housing shortage. He also discussed expected changes in the city’s zoning ordinances, particularly changes to accessory dwelling units or ADUs.

Individuals in the audience stated that ADUs would not likely have an impact on homelessness for many individuals as they would not be able to afford any amount of rent soon, and if individuals were taken from sidewalks without support, it would not achieve anything.

Ruais said that any efforts regarding homelessness would have to be comprehensive and utilize programs led by Department of Housing Stability Director Adrienne Beloin. He used his own life experiences as a case for retaining compassion while also taking homeless people off sidewalks.

“I agree that (homeless people) are human beings. I have been sober for 14 years next month, and I know that any one of them could have been me,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is make anyone’s life more difficult.”

Others in the audience discussed the idea of tiny homes, and one person asked if official camp sites could work. Ruais did not like this idea, citing potential safety issues from a similar initiative in Nashua where there were shootings and also said that organizations such as the 1269 Café and Families in Transition would do a better job of helping those in need than allowing a sanctioned camp to appear.

Regarding the cost of housing, he said that one condition of future 79E requests is making sure that developers contain at least some affordable housing in their proposals, which in Manchester he described as approximately $1,100 to $1,500.

He said that he is also eager to hear any other suggestions on how to address these topics.

Temperature of Aldermanic Discourse

One person asked how Ruais could lower the temperature of discourse and partisanship at Aldermanic meetings.

He replied that during his campaign and after the election, he made cooperation and collaboration a key to his policies, urging everyone to be respectful and stating that he will step in if needed to enforce respectful behavior, as he did near the end of last week’s Aldermanic meeting.

“We will have disagreements, that’s healthy. But when it diverges into name-calling, yelling, screaming, that’s unacceptable,” he said.

Harassment of Lifeguards at City Parks

One woman said that her teenage sons were being harassed during tenures as lifeguards at city pools this summer, with one incident involving a gun.

Ruais said that he was a lifeguard when he was younger and people in the situation of this woman’s sons did not deserve this situation, and should not be expected to have the tools to deal with it.

He said he would talk with the Department of Public Works and the Police Department to address the situation this summer.

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The crowd at the Webster School gym on Feb. 15, 2024. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

Facilities Plan and Schools

One individual asked what was going on with the “pause” of Phase One of the School Facilities Plan. Ruais said things are moving forward and there will be a meeting at Memorial High School on March 4 to provide more details on the plan.

Another individual asked if the plan would raise taxes.

Currently, the plan is being paid for through adequacy aid grants from Concord as well as new bonds that will come online once previous bonds are paid off, creating a revenue-neutral situation.

He also said that while Manchester may face various challenges, the lack of a quality public education system marks the death knell for any city.

Budgeting

Someone asked what “zero-based budgeting” means. Ruais responded that he has begun the process of talking with all 26 department heads in determining what should be cut, what should be kept, and where departments can get creative.

He said that meetings like this where he can obtain feedback to the process are vital and he encouraged additional feedback.

He also said that he is required to make a presentation on his proposed city budget by March 31.

Traffic Patrols

There were concerns about speeding near the area of SNHU and Bridge Street. There were also concerns with some streets near Bridge Street with bike lanes that are ignored by speeders. Although those such as Arnold Mikolo of the Conservation Law Fund and others have fought in Concord to address laws that could stem the speeders on the bike lane streets, it was stated that many people on those streets might not have cars but feel trapped due to the speeding cars nearby and the lack of bus service given safety concerns there.

Ruais said that he is working with the Police Department to identify speeding hotspots, but unfortunately, the city is limited in what it can do since the Police Department still needs 23 more officers to get up to a full complement.

Hiring a full-time grant writer

Given the amount of recent grants acquired by the Manchester School District and federal grants such as winning the Build Back Better Challenge, one person asked if it might make sense to hire a full-time grant writer.

Ruais liked this idea and felt it might make sense to take the short-term hit in a new salary if that person could bring in more than they are paid, especially given the fact that many departments in the city such as the Health Department rely heavily on grants.

Community Power

One person asked what the mayor’s opinion was regarding Manchester either creating its own municipal power company or joining a collaborative of communities that have created their own power company, such as what Nashua has done.

Ruais said he has talked with Mayor Donchess in Manchester and is eager to learn more about the subject, especially regarding saving money for Manchester ratepayers. However, he also said he cannot act unilaterally and that he is concerned about being locked into an electricity rate if the cost of energy fluctuates below that agreed upon rate.

Code Enforcement Officers

One woman complained about a neighbor who has five floodlights in front of his house, saying that the city’s code enforcement officers would not come to the house at night to witness the problem as well as stating that there was no problem.

The woman said she was told by the neighbor that they had the lights for security, but she felt that it was excessive and it was disrupting her sleep.

The mayor said he would reach out to the code enforcement office and the Department of Public Works on the issue.


 

About this Author

Andrew Sylvia

Assistant EditorManchester Ink Link

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 licensed 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.