$217.9m budget plan speaks for itself

NASHUA – In a city of more than 85,000 mostly frugal souls, you would think somebody would want to question city spending proposed for the next fiscal year.

You would be wrong.

The public hearing Monday on the proposed fiscal year 2010 budget lasted less than 10 minutes, with no one coming to the podium to pose questions as the 55 city departments were called out by name.

Not even for the school, fire and police departments – heavy hitters and sometimes the target of taxpayer contention.

Having zero public comments or questions during the annual public hearing has never happened before during his 10-year tenure, City Clerk Paul Bergeron said.

“We were out at 7:20 once before, but this is the first time there hasn’t been anybody,” Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy said.

McCarthy, who chairs the budget review committee, presided over the public hearing, which began at 7 p.m. and lasted all of 10 minutes.

The general fund budget proposal totals $217.9 million, up 2.3 percent over the current year.

The total budget, which includes special revenue and enterprise funds, totals $251.5 million.

To fund the budget, the city will need to raise $144.4 million in taxes, an increase of just less than 1 percent from the current year, Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said.

These are good reasons why the public stayed away – although roughly 30 city staff members showed up in the Nashua High School North auditorium, ready to answer questions about their departments, if needed.

Alderman-at-Large Fred Teeboom offered another reason: The proposed budget is comfortably under the spending cap.

“If you go over the cap, you’d be here till midnight,” Teeboom said.

The proposed budget is approximately $1.4 million below the spending cap, Lozeau said when she submitted the budget to the Board of Aldermen at an earlier meeting.

For 2010, the spending cap – which limits increases in city spending – is 3.4 percent, based on an inflationary measure for urban areas in the Northeast.

Now that the public had a chance to weigh in, it will be the Budget Review Committee’s turn.

On Wednesday, the committee will begin its wrap-up process, during which the committee can make changes to the spending plan.

Following the committee’s work, the budget will go to the full Board of Aldermen for final approval.

The fiscal year begins July 1 and runs through June 30, 2010.