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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Nashua committee signs off on FY15 budget plan

NASHUA – A panel of aldermen on Monday voted to send their budget recommendations to the full Board of Aldermen after narrowly defeating a measure that would have reduced funding for the downtown sidewalk project in hopes of replacing it with other money.

Ward 9 Alderman Ken Siegel asked members of the Budget Review Committee to consider cutting close to $200,000 from the $500,000 budget line for downtown improvements. ...

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NASHUA – A panel of aldermen on Monday voted to send their budget recommendations to the full Board of Aldermen after narrowly defeating a measure that would have reduced funding for the downtown sidewalk project in hopes of replacing it with other money.

Ward 9 Alderman Ken Siegel asked members of the Budget Review Committee to consider cutting close to $200,000 from the $500,000 budget line for downtown improvements.

The money has been used each year to pay for materials and overtime labor costs for the ongoing sidewalk
rebuilding project.

Committee members began debating last week whether to fully fund the initiative, which has generated mixed opinions in the community.

Some aldermen spoke in favor of temporarily halting the project last week, or reducing the budget to help offset other budget increases for schools and city police.

Work resumed April 10 on the sidewalk project, which is in its third year. Thus far, crews have finished three of five blocks included in the project. They began construction on the west side of Main Street, between Factory and High streets, and are continuing work on the west side of the block, reaching to Santander Bank at 223 Main St.

Each block has cost the city approximately $500,000, according to the mayor. That figure does not include straight time labor costs for workers from the Department of Public Works, who are assigned to work on the sidewalks as part of their regular duties.

The city has $107,191 remaining from the appropriation made in fiscal 2014 for sidewalk work. Chief Financial Officer John Griffin said it will take an estimated $187,161 to finish work on the west side of block four.

With the sidewalk overhaul well underway, Siegel said he recognizes the need to complete the project. Rather than halting the effort, he proposed using $104,000 worth of surplus parking revenue from the previous year, coupled with money that was previously set aside to pay for repairs to the Jackson Falls Dam, to offset construction costs.

“I’d like to see us take those two chunks of money and have them used to help pay for this,” he said.

Aldermen voted last year to set aside $100,000 to reimburse the developer behind the Cotton Mill Square project for construction to shore up the dam, which is owned by the city. But with new aldermen serving on the board this year, the group defeated legislation that would have delivered the $100,000 payment, leaving it available for other purposes.

The parking revenue in question was generated largely from parking meters in the city last year. City ordinances stipulate that if more than $728,000 worth of parking revenue is collected in a given year, the excess will be used for downtown improvements, such as infrastructure work, beautification, marketing and promotion.

Nashua collected around $833,000 in parking revenue between January and December 2013, giving the city roughly $104,000 to spend on downtown improvements in the coming year.

City ordinances stipulate that the Downtown Improvement Committee can make recommendations to the mayor about how the money should be spent. The committee voted in April to recommend spending the money to spruce up green spaces downtown and buy new banners and hanging planters, among other things. The Board of Aldermen ultimately decides how to spend the money through the budget process.

Siegel recommended reducing the $500,000 line item for the sidewalk project by $194,000, saying he would bring legislation to the Board of Aldermen in the future to redirect the parking revenue and escrow money from the dam project to pay for sidewalk construction.

The effort failed on a 3-3 vote, with Siegel and committee members David Deane and David Schoneman voting in favor of the cut. Voting it against it were Lori Wilshire, Richard Dowd and Pam Brown.

The Budget Review Committee then finalized its recommendations, handing off the budget package to the full Board of Aldermen.

Overall, the group’s amendments would add $173,392 to the budget submitted by the mayor earlier this year. The group voted to recommend restoring $160,000 for the school district and $70,000 for the police department – money that was previously eliminated from the budget by the mayor.

Additionally, the Budget Review Committee voted to recommend eliminating the city’s $40,000 Downtown Facade Improvement Program, which provides a dollar-for-dollar match to business owners who are willing to invest in improving the exteriors of their properties.

It also reduced a line item for advertising in the purchasing office by $10,000, took $4,108 out of the salary line for a position in the Financial Services Division and reduced the mayor’s budget by $2,500, eliminating $1,000 from the line item for conferences and seminars, another $1,000 from the line for the mayor’s expense account and $500 from the line item for meals.

The full Board of Aldermen is expected to take up the budget at a special meeting on Tuesday, July 22.

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 Lozeau submitted to the aldermen earlier this year calls for an increase of roughly $5 million – or approximately 2.2 percent – over the current year. The mayor has said it would translate into a tax hike of less than 3 percent.

Lozeau’s budget came in at $256.5 million, with a request for about $241.2 million for the city’s general fund.

One of the central features of the new budget is a request by the mayor to establish a new special revenue fund for road maintenance.

The Budget Review Committee voted 6-1 last week to recommend an amended version of Lozeau’s road maintenance plan for passage by the full Board of Aldermen. The measure also is expected to be taken up next week.

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