Mayor: Keep budget increases to 3 percent

Mayor Bernie Streeter gathered his division directors and other key city administrators Thursday to lay down his guidelines for the next city budget.

He told the group that he is looking for budget requests with increases of no more than 3 percent.

No exceptions.

The budget is largely driven by labor costs, with three departments taking the bulk of the spending: fire, police and school.

For some divisions, this guideline brings relief, Streeter said.

But to the big three, Streeter said in his prepared comments: “They will be difficult to attain, but I implore you to do so.”

The mayor said he would give the school district an additional $250,000 of leeway to make up for the same amount he cut from the curriculum budget this year.

Streeter has pledged to get his recommended city spending plan into the hands of the Board of Aldermen by Feb. 22 so the board can begin its review of the budget earlier than usual. The aldermen did not approve this year’s budget until mid-August, more than a month after the start of the fiscal year.

Some aldermen have their eyes on April, the deadline to inform school staff members that they will be pink-slipped. Some board members believe they can have more influence on the school budget if they review the budget before April.

It should be an interesting budget season, Streeter said.

Voters, voters everywhere

Voter turnout at the Nashua polls Tuesday was 78 percent, with some 40,204 ballots cast, said City Clerk Paul Bergeron.

Ward 6 can claim the Civic Duty Award. Some 81 percent of the registered voters in the neighborhoods in the middle of the city turned out to vote, the best turnout of the nine wards, Bergeron said.

Ward 4 residents had the lowest turnout, with 72 percent voting.

And with all the attention on the presidential election, the voter checklist increased by 14 percent on Election Day alone.

On Tuesday, 6,372 voters registered at the polls. The new registrants pushed the checklist to 51,483 voters in the city, Bergeron said.

Bergeron said he caught up with other town and city clerks at a meeting last week. Everyone looked shell-shocked after the election, he said.

Also, for the fourth year in a row, the city’s annual report took home a first-place prize from the New Hampshire Municipal Association, he said.

Free and clear

Recreation areas around Artillery Lane got an OK during a recent asbestos check.

In August, the Division of Public Works hired a contractor to investigate if asbestos was in surface and below-surface soils in five areas around the site, near Holman Stadium.

Richard Reine, superintendent of the Solid Waste Department, said workers dug 65 test borings in areas where future construction could dig up the hazardous material.

The areas examined were Murray Field, North Common, the intersection of Manchester Street and Sargents Avenue, and two locations on Artillery Lane.

Asbestos is commonly found around the city, since it was a popular material used for fill years ago.

But the tests found no asbestos in those areas.

However, Reine said the future work would be done with precautions because asbestos has been found nearby.

The state Department of Environmental Services required this work, and a meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the cafeteria of the Amherst Street School to present the results of the tests.

St. Joe’s goes way of state

Employees in the St. Joseph Hospital rehab unit took their own informal poll Tuesday, which closely mirrored the election results for the state.

In informal voting on a white grease board in the hospital’s fourth-floor unit, John Kerry beat President Bush in a 19-18 vote, a split of 49 percent for Kerry and about 46 percent for Bush.

Green Party candidate Ralph Nader picked up two votes to capture about 5 percent of the hospital ballots.

The tallies paralleled the state, as Kerry beat Bush in New Hampshire with 50 percent of the vote compared to 49 percent for the president. Nader fared better at the hospital than he did in the popular vote, where he captured less than 1 percent.

Votes were cast between by doctors, nurses, housekeepers, physician assistants and hospital managers, reported Pat Ryan, who is in charge of admissions at the rehab unit.

“People were really curious to see who would truly win,” Ryan said Tuesday. “It was amazing it was so close to what everyone predicted.”