Mayor prunes school budget
NASHUA – Mayor Bernie Streeter trimmed the spending plan for the city’s schools, but his budget proposal for the 2005 fiscal year does not endorse any of the dire options feared by parents.
No elementary schools will close. High school busing remains. Public kindergarten classrooms will continue.
After what he described as productive talks with education leaders, Streeter’s $189.6 million proposed operating budget delivered to the Board of Aldermen Thursday night includes a cut of $861,164 to the school budget passed by the Board of Education.
The city’s schools would see an increase of more than $5 million, to $81.6 million, under Streeter’s plan – a far rosier scenario than earlier this year, when school officials were pondering how to trim their budget to the vicinity of $79 million to meet a mandate from the mayor.
Much of the winter was spent with Streeter warning he would wield a sharp budget ax as city leaders confronted one of the most difficult fiscal challenges to face the city in years.
Some city divisions will have less money in the upcoming year under Streeter’s proposal. Three face bottom-line cuts and others have no spending increases at all.
But other divisions will see spending increases if the aldermen do not trim the mayor’s recommendation – 7 percent for the schools, 5.9 percent for Nashua Fire Rescue and 5.2 percent for the Police Department.
Streeter is looking to boost the city’s total operating budget by 4.7 percent, or some $8.5 million. The $189.6 million plan to operate the city increases to $201.8 million with the two enterprise funds, which are paid through user fees for solid waste disposal and wastewater.
An early forecast puts the expected tax rate increase at between 6 percent and 7 percent, according to Streeter and Administrative Services Director Maureen Lemieux.
Aldermen could make adjustments to the budget before they approve it at the end of June. In addition, the city could use additional revenue from surplus and reserved funds to reduce the tax increase.
Change of plans
Streeter said he backed off on his initial plan to hold city divisions to no increases in their budgets. Taking that step would have ensured a drop in services to the public, he said.
The mayor said his proposed budget contains the lowest increase in eight years.
“After considerable review, I believe I have developed a budget that is in the best interests of our citizens,” Streeter said. “This budget will result in a tax increase that is considerably more than last year, but considerably less than the double-digit increase we could have been facing.”
Last year, the tax rate increased 3.3 percent.
He expects his plan to be attacked by those who say it is too expensive, and those who say it does not spend enough, Streeter said.
“I will defend the budget,” he said.
This is the mayor’s first budget proposal since he was elected to a second term last fall.
The aldermen now will begin their own analysis of city needs. Board members have already started to talk with educators.
Alderman-at-Large Steve Bolton, the chairman of the Budget Review Committee, said it appears the doom and gloom the Streeter administration put forward earlier this year was far worse then the reality of the
Ward 7 Alderman Lori Cardin spoke out against the proposed cuts in the area of civic and community activities, including grants for social service agencies.
Cardin, the chairwoman of the Human Affairs Committee, said the money helps the most vulnerable city residents, and leaders should be prepared to put more money toward the welfare budget if community agencies are hurt by these cuts.
Some of the worst-case scenarios that Streeter and his advisers had discussed in the winter have eased a bit, they said.
The deficit in the Solid Waste Department is not as severe as first thought, and refinancing bonds saved the city $1.2 million.
The financial predictions “were dire in January,” Lemieux said, adding that “they are still not good” but that the picture has brightened somewhat.
One unanswered question is whether the city’s share of state education aid will get a lift. It is on track to go down by some $4 million, though one proposal being pushed by Nashua legislators would allow the city to retain $1.8 million of that amount.
“My big disappointment in this thing is Concord,” Streeter said, adding aldermen and residents need to put pressure on legislators.
School spending became a hot topic in recent months, as dozens of parents reacted to Streeter’s level-funding mandate by urging the school board to endorse a budget to reflect the educational needs of the city’s children. School officials had said they might have to take steps such as closing an elementary school or the alternative middle school, or eliminating high school busing, if they were forced to absorb a drastic cut to their budget proposal.
The mayor is suggesting specific cuts to the school budget for the first time, though the school board will still make the final spending decisions, Lemieux said. In the past, political opponents have criticized Streeter for giving only vague suggestions to the school board.
Streeter’s largest cut from the school budget is targeted at taking $250,000 from the curriculum development program, leaving it at $500,000.
The mayor also wants to reduce the allocation given to principals for school supplies by $10 per student, saving $135,000 and leaving approximately $2 million in the budget for that purpose, Lemieux said.
Also, City Hall moved $600,000 for severance pay from the school budget and put it in a dedicated line item for that purpose.
Streeter’s budget also suggests eliminating two part-time assistant principal positions, and six paraprofessional positions would not be filled along with two half-time custodial positions.
Close to half of the total city budget increase is tied to the opening of the revamped second public high school, Lemieux said.
The cost to operate the new school is forecast at an additional $2.1 million, while $2.2 million goes to repay the high school construction costs, Lemieux said.
Last year, City Hall settled new labor agreements with the largest unions, including those representing teachers, police and firefighters. Paying for the contractual obligations is estimated to cost an additional $3.5 million, Lemieux said.
City staffing will be reduced under Streeter’s plan. A handful of positions will be eliminated, including some with the most interaction with the public.
The Motor Vehicle Department would lose a clerk from an office where each clerk handles some 11,000 transactions a year. The Economic Development Department will lose its assistant director position, last held by Alan Manoian.
Police, fire budgets up
Budget writers decided to maintain emergency services at the expense of administrative staff, Lemieux said.
“People can wait in line an extra 10 minutes. You don’t want to wait an extra three minutes if your house is burning down,” she said.
The mayor’s proposal includes a boost of $784,790 for the Police Department, an increase of 5.2 percent. Some of the department’s goals are to reduce response time from an average of nine minutes and increase the number of drug informants, according to information provided by the Police Department to budget writers.
City firefighters would get an increase of 5.9 percent, or $736,308. Nashua Fire Rescue wants to establish its dive team in the upcoming budget year, according to its budget request.
The Division of Public Works is in line for a $127,084 increase, or 1.35 percent. The Streets Department is also to get $1 million from a separate capital budget for the street paving and sidewalk repair program.
Three City Hall departments face cuts.
The city’s libraries are facing a reduction of 1.7 percent, or some $36,812, in their budget. The planned move of the local history collection from the main branch to the Chandler Library is likely to be delayed.
The Administrative Services Division faces losing $25,042, or less than 1 percent.
The Community Services Division, which includes the Environmental Health Department and the welfare office, is slated for the largest cut among city divisions. Streeter is recommending a cut of 4.6 percent, which amounts to $145,562.
Andrew Nelson can be reached at 594-6415 or email@example.com.
Nashua Budget Breakdown
This chart shows the budgets for different city departments for the past two years, Mayor Bernie Streeter’s proposed budget for the 2005 fiscal year, and the change between the current and proposed budgets. Not all departments are included.
Dollar amounts are shown in millions where applicable. Decreases are shown in parentheses.
Department | FY 2003 | FY 2004 | Proposed FY 2005 | Percent change
School dept. | $73.76m | $76.21m | $81.55m | 7.0
Police dept. | $14.05m | $14.98m | $15.77m | 5.24
Fire dept. | $11.58m | $12.43m | $13.16m | 5.92
Streets dept. | $4.92m | $5.12m | $5.26m | 2.65
Parks and recreation | $2.44m | $2.52m | $2.52m | (0.01)
Libraries | $2.15m | $2.21m | $2.17m | (1.67)
Welfare | $1.24m | $1.87m | $1.78m | (5.14)
Civic & comm. activities | $1.17m | $1.22m | $1.10m | (9.74)
Traffic dept. | $649,946 | $662,474 | $662,458 | (0.01)
Building dept. | $461,233 | $477,400 | $498,971 | 4.52
Planning and zoning | $455,363 | $461,966 | $478,206 | 3.52
City clerk’s office | $342,962 | $376,766 | $365,341 | (3.03)
Public health | $409,503 | $339,543 | $331,269 | (2.44)
Environmental health | $271,132 | $344,461 | $317,367 | (7.87)
Mayor’s office | $293,069 | $300,136 | $300,136 | 0
Board of Aldermen | $151,098 | $154,870 | $170,471 | 10.07
Economic development | $145,033 | $161,016 | $98,774 | (38.66)
Total | $172.89m | $181.06m | $189.59m | 4.71 |
Source: City Hall