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Friday, July 11, 2014

Budget Review Committee sends Nashua mayor’s road spending plan to full board, hold onto city budget

The aldermanic Budget Review Committee made a few tweaks and changes to the Mayor Donnalee Lozeau’s proposed fiscal 2015 city operating budget Thursday night, eventually taking up Lozeau’s proposal to create a special revenue fund for road maintenance and repair.

In the end, the committee voted 6-1 to recommend an amended version of Lozeau’s road maintenance plan for passage by the full Board of Aldermen, but held onto the city budget for more deliberations at a future meeting. ...

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The aldermanic Budget Review Committee made a few tweaks and changes to the Mayor Donnalee Lozeau’s proposed fiscal 2015 city operating budget Thursday night, eventually taking up Lozeau’s proposal to create a special revenue fund for road maintenance and repair.

In the end, the committee voted 6-1 to recommend an amended version of Lozeau’s road maintenance plan for passage by the full Board of Aldermen, but held onto the city budget for more deliberations at a future meeting.

Ward 3 Alderman David Schoneman was the lone “no” vote.

An amendment was passed unanimously adding a stipulation that the road funds be used only for “annual paving contract(s) as approved by the Finance Committee.”

After nearly an hour of discussion over the amendment, committee Chairman David Deane motioned to re-table the budget resolution, which passed in a rollcall vote, 5-2, with Ward 2 Alderman Richard Dowd and Ward 4 Alderman Pam Brown opposed.

Deane said a date for the next meeting will need to be set, along with a meeting of the full Board of Aldermen.

Initially, some aldermen and public hearing speakers questioned whether Lozeau drafted the road spending plan to move funds to a special account in order to circumvent the spending cap, but she’s insisted from the beginning that she did so to try to find a solution to what she called a “challenging, at best” problem of funding road repairs.

Her proposal, which in June was aired at Budget Review Committee meetings and a public hearing, also calls for about $50,000 for new software to allow the Department of Public Works to better map out a schedule and timeline for road repair and maintenance work.

“I’m telling you the paving situation in this city is so bad we could spend $2 million on it right away,” Lozeau told the committee.

Her request to create the fund goes to the heart of Lozeau’s proposed $241.3 million budget for fiscal 2015, which represents a roughly $5 million, or 2.2 percent, increase over the current budget.

The budget as proposed would come in below the city’s spending cap, and keep city property tax increases below 3 percent.

Schoneman reiterated previous concerns that the proposal “skirts” the spending cap, saying taxpayers voted for the cap because they were worried about their taxes getting out of hand.

Lozeau said she sees the fund, officially named the Special Road and Highway Fund, as a way to jump-start road projects that otherwise might languish for another year or more.

The discussion and eventual vote over the special fund took place as part of the committee’s second budget wrap-up session Thursday night.

When the committee returned to the wrapup session, Schoneman threw out a motion to cut $500,000 from the controversial Main street sidewalk reconstruction project, saying the figure was intended “to get the conversation started.”

Eventually, Schoneman revised his motion to cut about $173,400 from the sidewalk project, a figure suggested by committee member Jim Donchess.

Donchess, a frequent critic of the project, said it might not be a bad idea to halt, and “re-address,” what he called “a half-baked project.

“We don’t even know when it’s going to finish,” he said.

After nearly an hour of discussion over the amendment, committee Chairman David Deane motioned to re-table the budget resolution, which passed in a rollcall vote, 5-2, with Ward 2 Alderman Richard Dowd and Ward 4 Alderman Pam Brown opposed.

Deane said a date for the next meeting will need to be set, along with a meeting of the full Board of Aldermen.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).