City budget passes without cuts, complaints

NASHUA – Without a single cut proposed and nary a discouraging word uttered, the Board of Aldermen on Tuesday quietly approved the city’s $250 million fiscal year 2010 budget.

The board voted unanimously to approve the budget, which takes effect July 1 and runs through June 30, 2010.

The vote completed a quiet budget season, in which no one spoke during the annual public meeting, and the budget review committee forwarded the spending plan to the board of aldermen without recommending a single cut.

Ward 7 Alderman Dick Flynn said he could have suggested some small spending cuts here or there, but agreed that with the uncertainty of state funding and the economy, the budget was best left alone.

Flynn is not only one of the board’s staunchest fiscal conservatives, but also one of its most diligent when it comes to perusing city spending. Though not a budget review committee member, Flynn attended the committee meetings, frequently asking department heads or staff to explain spending lines.

During a budget review committee meeting last Wednesday, Alderman-at-Large Benjamin Clemons tried unsuccessfully to add nearly $186,000 to the school department budget in order to preserve five part-time custodial jobs.

But other committee members convinced Clemons that should the money be added back in to the education budget, the school board would not be bound to use the funds to preserve the custodians’ jobs and would likely spend the money in other areas.

After repeating his concerns over the potential job loss of the part-time workers – some of whom have worked for the school district for 30 years, he said – Clemons said he would back the city budget.

“It’s a very hard vote for me to make, but I am going to support the budget this evening,” Clemons said.

He and other aldermen commended Mayor Donnalee Lozeau and her staff for putting together a budget that contained spending. Lozeau in turn thanked the city departments, the city’s financial staff and former city chief financial officer Carol Anderson, who retired last year but helped with the budget as a consultant.

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 $233.5 million. That brings it $1.4 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.

When Lozeau presented the budget a month ago, she said next year’s tax rate may rise but not many residents’ tax bills because property values are expected to drop by an average of 12 percent following a revaluation.

That’s because taxes are based on a home’s assessed value. If the value drops, then the homeowner would pay less in property taxes even if the tax rate increases slightly.

The state Department of Revenue Administration sets the tax rate in the fall based on city financial information.