Finding funding solution

NASHUA – An alderman didn’t have to look far to find a source for the $650,000 needed to cover the recently approved firefighters contract.

He just looked around him as he sat in the City Hall aldermanic chamber.

Alderman-at-Large Benjamin Clemons has drafted a resolution to draw the money from $1.15 million set aside for City Hall renovations.

He also has suggestions for how that money could be made up without falling behind schedule for the renovations.

Clemons’ resolution is being co-sponsored by Alderman-at-Large Lori Wilshire and Ward 9 Alderman Jeffrey Cox. A draft of the resolution is being reviewed by the city’s legal department and should be ready to present to the board Wednesday, Clemons said.

The board of aldermen approved the five-year firefighters contract on Tuesday by an 8-6 vote, with one member absent, despite the fire department’s budget falling $650,000 short of being able to cover the contract’s cost.

At a recent budget review committee meeting, Clemons said he would vote to support the firefighters even if it meant overriding the city’s spending cap.

Approving a supplemental appropriation of $650,000 would exceed the cap and require 10 votes of the 15-member board to pass.

“Looking into that, I came to the conclusion that wasn’t a necessary step,” Clemons said Friday.

Clemons said he supports the concept of the cap, which ties increases in city spending to an index that measures inflation – or just over 3 percent in the region for the current budget year.

Staying within the cap “should be our goal,” Clemons said.

So Clemons decided to look beyond the city’s unappropriated revenue account for other places to cover the contract shortfall.

Transferring the money from the City Hall renovation account would do just that, and Clemons figured there was enough in the account to get started on the work, which includes replacing the building’s heating and air-conditioning system.

He also figures there’s only a 50-50 chance the renovations would begin this budget year.

In turn, $650,000 could be added to the $4.5 million bond to repair the Hunt and public health department buildings, Clemons said. Or, money could be found in next year’s budget, he said.

“The good part of it is, we won’t have to override the spending cap to do this,” Clemons said.

Cox said it was a “smart move” to apply the money to funding what he termed “a rich but equitable” contract for the firefighters and delay the City Hall renovations.

“It had been sitting there needing to be done for a long time,” Cox said of the City Hall work. “It wouldn’t be done before the end of the fiscal year,” he said, adding the delay will buy time for “a proper analysis” of the work required at City Hall.

It’s likely that others, including Mayor Donnalee Lozeau, will float their own ideas for covering the $650,000 shortfall. For example, at a recent finance committee meeting, Lozeau suggested putting a hold on a proposal to appropriate $400,000 for a new fire truck. Her proposal passed unanimously.

Clemons said he backed putting off a decision on the truck only to see “how things shake out” with the budget.

“I didn’t see any harm in holding it,” he said.

However, Clemons said he doesn’t want to delay buying the truck for too long.

“A fire truck is a piece of apparatus the city depends upon,” he said. “If it breaks down, we’re in trouble.”

His proposal to cover the contract by transferring money from the renovations account isn’t likely to sit well with some aldermen.

Alderman-at-Large David Deane said he didn’t think that was such a good idea.

“In essence, he’s bonding these pay raises,” Deane said. “It would be like making your mortgage payment with your credit card.”

Transferring money into a payroll account would also require 10 votes, Deane said.

Deane also said it would be “kind of a shame” to put off buying the fire truck because it would knock the city’s vehicle replacement schedule off track.

Instead, Deane, who voted against the firefighters contract, said he wants to hear ideas for covering the shortfall from other aldermen who supported the pact.

“I think it’s worth having the resolution on the table,” Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy said of Clemons’ idea. “It would not be my first choice.”

McCarthy, who backed the firefighters pact, said he thinks the board will see other ideas for covering the shortfall.

“I don’t think it’s the best solution, but I think it’s a good one,” Wilshire said of transferring the money from the City Hall renovations account.