Aldermanic committee gives budget OK as it is

NASHUA – The charmed life of the proposed city budget continued Wednesday as the aldermen’s budget review committee voted to recommend the spending plan with nary a tweak.

And this came on the heels of a public hearing in which no one from the public raised a single question about a document that outlines more than $250 million in city spending.

The budget review committee by voice vote recommended the Fiscal Year 2010 budget to the full board. Only two of the seven committee members dissented: Aldermen-at-Large Ben Clemons and Lori Wilshire.

Clemons tried unsuccessful to add nearly $186,000 to the school department budget in order to preserve five part-time custodial jobs.

Mayor Donnalee Lozeau had said the budget would not require any layoffs. However, Clemons said the school business manager told him through an e-mail that because of the wording in union contracts, some of the part-time custodian positions would be cut.

“This deeply concerns me because as we came into the process, we were told there would be no layoffs, that attrition would take care of those things,” Clemons said.

Clemons said it’s his fundamental belief that no one should lose his job in this economy, especially since the money to save the positions is a pittance in a school department budget of $87.6 million.

However, Clemons was reminded that while aldermen can add to the school budget and suggest where to put the money, the Board of Education could place the funds anywhere it chose.

The two spending lines in the budget appear exactly as the school department submitted them, Lozeau said. In trimming a percent from the budget, the school board and administration outlined other areas to cut, she said.

If any money were added back in, the school board and school administration would likely follow their own priorities, not the aldermen’s, Lozeau said.

“While this might be a nice thought, the practical value isn’t there,” Ward 5 Alderman Michael Tabacsko said.

Alderman-at-Large David Deane put it more strongly.

“In the past, we tried to do something like this. We were lambasted by the Board of Education,” Deane said.

School board members’ attitude was that the aldermen had no business telling them how to spend their money, Deane said.

“I’m not going to support adding any money to their budget,” he said.

While the aldermen can directly make cuts or additions to some city spending lines, they can only adjust the school department’s total budget.

When it came time to vote on the city budget resolution, Clemons praised Lozeau for doing an excellent job putting the budget together. But he said he was sticking to his guns to vote against it because of his fear that some school custodians would get the ax.

Though at the time she didn’t explain her reasons for the vote, Wilshire said after the meeting she supported the points Clemons made.

As for the budget, which now goes to the full board of aldermen for final approval: 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, Lozeau has said.

The combined city budget – which includes operating funds plus other accounts funded by tax dollars and not user fees – totals $233.49 million.

That brings it $1.436 million under the spending cap. 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.

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