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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Nashua aldermen restore budget money to hire police officers

By JIM HADDADIN

Staff Writer

NASHUA – Responding to concerns about ongoing drug crime in the city, a committee of aldermen voted Monday to restore $70,000 to the police department budget, heeding a call from the police chief to help put more officers on the street.

Members of the aldermanic Budget Review Committee chose to restore funds in the city’s fiscal 2015 budget that had been trimmed by Mayor Donnalee Lozeau. ...

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NASHUA – Responding to concerns about ongoing drug crime in the city, a committee of aldermen voted Monday to restore $70,000 to the police department budget, heeding a call from the police chief to help put more officers on the street.

Members of the aldermanic Budget Review Committee chose to restore funds in the city’s fiscal 2015 budget that had been trimmed by Mayor Donnalee Lozeau.

The decision came Monday as the committee began tailoring Lozeau’s $256.5 million budget proposal for the coming year, making alterations to the police budget and a handful of other line items.

The police department was one of two city divisions that requested an increase above the 2 percent threshold set by Lozeau at the beginning of budget season.

Chief John Seusing’s budget proposal for the police department came in at $26.6 million, an increase of about 2.5 percent from the current year. Lozeau cut $70,000 from the bottom line before handing the police budget off to the Board of Aldermen last month.

Seusing said he would cope with the $70,000 reduction by allowing two staff positions to go unfilled, but he implored members of the Budget Review Committee to restore the funding to help increase staffing. Seusing said previously that the money would allow him to hire two new officers and shift two more experienced officers to the drug unit, also known as the Narcotics and Intelligence Division.

Ward 5 Alderman Michael Soucy, a former city police officer, led the charge Monday to restore funding to the police budget, saying that the department is understaffed.

“I believe as a society, as a city, one of the most important things that people want is to go to bed at night believing that they’re safe,” Soucy said.

Soucy said the average detective in Nashua is juggling 40-50 unsolved cases, meaning that fewer resources can be devoted to solving crimes such as home burglaries.

“I’m just afraid, being a border city, the way we’re growing, that at some point we’re going to begin to look like some of these Massachusetts communities,” he said.

Alderman-at-Large Jim Donchess said he attended a recent Crime Watch meeting in Ward 4 and heard a presentation from a detective in the drug unit about the challenges facing the department.

“It was very clear from an on-the-street view that the quantity of drugs has increased dramatically, and that they have more work than they can possibly do,” Donchess said.

Other adjustments Monday included reducing the line item for advertising in the purchasing office from $49,000 to $39,000. The fund is used primarily to place public notices in newspapers and other periodicals for job openings, requests for bids and other items.

The committee also eliminated funding for Nashua’s Downtown Facade Improvement Program, which was funded this year to the tune of $40,000.

The program is administered by the mayor’s Office of Economic Development. It provides a dollar-for-
dollar match to business owners who are willing to invest in improving the exteriors of their properties. It provides matching grants of up to $12,000 to assist with the design and construction of new building facades, and a 50 percent matching grant – up to $2,000 – for the design and installation of new lighting, signs or awnings, according to information provided by the city.

With sidewalks being renovated and trees being removed downtown, Lozeau said some business owners are seeing their storefronts clearly for the first time in years. The facade program is aimed at giving them an incentive to make aesthetic upgrades, she said.

Ward 9 Alderman Ken Siegel, who moved to cut the funding for the program, said he appreciates the attempt to beautify downtown, but it “seems like we have higher priorities than that, unfortunately.”

“It seems like a little bit of a luxury this year,” Siegel said.

Lozeau’s proposed budget calls for a 2.2 percent increase. The mayor has said it would translate into a tax hike of less than 3 percent.

The new fiscal year begins July 1, but the city budget isn’t required to be finalized until August. The budget must be approved by the Board of Aldermen and is subject to a mayoral veto.

The Budget Review Committee is scheduled to continue its work at a meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday in the aldermanic chamber at City Hall.

Jim Haddadin can be reached at 594-6589 or jhaddadin@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Haddadin on Twitter (@Telegraph_JimH).