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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Nashua residents critical of $241.2 million budget - some want more, some want less

With a $5.2 million increase to the city budget, residents questioned whether every line of the city’s proposed $241.2 million spending plan is a necessity during a public hearing Monday.

Dan Richardson questioned the funding for the city’s economic development department. ...

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With a $5.2 million increase to the city budget, residents questioned whether every line of the city’s proposed $241.2 million spending plan is a necessity during a public hearing Monday.

Dan Richardson questioned the funding for the city’s economic development department.

“Every year I look for something to come out of this department, something that’s not done by the chamber of commerce already,” Richardson said. “This department doesn’t really produce anything … it serves as a mirror for the chamber of commerce.”

Resident Robert Sullivan said he did not think the city could afford a 3 percent tax increase each year, and said it seems to be caused by benefits and pensions.

“I too am on a fixed income … when it comes to benefits, I think we give very fair benefits to our city employees … and we keep having increases in our taxes,” Sullivan said.

Other city residents supported the increase to the city tax rate, which is approximately 3 percent.

Jacqueline Lessard, a school district employee, said the city is close to being “penny-wise, dollar foolish.”

Lessard said her tax rate has been reasonable, particularly in exchange for services the city offers.

“I want to be sure those services are available for my grandchildren,” Lessard said, adding that she values every one of the city services.

Nashua resident Kelly Peterson also advocated for additional funding for the city’s largest department.

“We need to invest in our future. … Our children are going to be the Board of Aldermen. Our children are going to be the mayor,” Peterson said.

Monday’s hearing gave residents an opportunity to weigh in on every aspect of the city budget, as outlined by Mayor Donnalee Lozeau.

Lozeau began the budget hearing by reviewing the city’s overall budget. She compared increases to past budgets and advised the audience to keep the 2016 budget in mind.

“When you’re looking at the budget year that you’re planning for, you should also be looking at the year to come,” Lozeau said.

Lozeau said her proposed budget should satisfy the needs of each city division. “I think the proposed budget strikes the right balance.”

The coming year’s $241.2 million proposed budget is $209,000 under the spending cap. It’s a $5.2 million increase over the 2014 budget, and the projected tax increase comes under 3 percent, she said.

“I think it’s also important to say, when we talk about the cuts … the cut is to the increase to the budget, not to the existing budget,” Lozeau said

Former alderman Paula Johnson said she was concerned about the rise in salaries for some city positions.

“This is not being accountable, this is not being responsible to the taxpayers,” she said.

Johnson said she was concerned for residents on fixed incomes not being able to afford tax increases year after year.

“We’ve made it very tough for people to live in this community again,” Johnson said.

Johnson said she doesn’t see the value of Great American Downtown, which is the force behind the Holiday Stroll and the Taste of Downtown, among other things.

“I think $35,000 would be better spent elsewhere,” she said, recommending the money go to the police department.

Johnson contested the need for new sidewalks on Main Street as well.

Mayor Lozeau said that the sidewalks hadn’t been repaired since the late 1970s. “I’m pretty confident we’ve made a good decision here,” Lozeau said.

Many residents questioned the education budget, with Board of Education member Kimberly Muise and Superintendent Mark Conrad helping to answer questions.

Bob Sherman, president of the Nashua teachers union, asked that the audience consider Nashua’s NECAP scores in the context of the district’s educational needs.

Tina Forbes can be reached at 594-6402 or tforbes@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Forbes on Twitter (@Telegraph_TinaF).