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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Nashua board approves paving fund; keeps citizen services director in mayor’s office

NASHUA – Calling road projects one of the top priorities for residents, Nashua aldermen approved the creation of a new special revenue fund for paving projects Tuesday night and rejected a call from some board members to move the position of citizen services director out of the mayor’s office.

The decisions came during the first stage of a lengthy and sometimes divisive debate over the city’s proposed $256 million budget. ...

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NASHUA – Calling road projects one of the top priorities for residents, Nashua aldermen approved the creation of a new special revenue fund for paving projects Tuesday night and rejected a call from some board members to move the position of citizen services director out of the mayor’s office.

The decisions came during the first stage of a lengthy and sometimes divisive debate over the city’s proposed $256 million budget.

Aldermen reversed a recommendation from the Budget Review Committee to establish a new citizen services director underneath the purview of the Board of Aldermen – a vote that came soon after aldermen learned that the woman who formerly held the position, Patricia Rogers, would no longer be working for the city.

Some board members said Tuesday that Rogers – who was hailed by alderman for her job performance – was fired amid a falling-out with Mayor Donnalee Lozeau.

“I have the utmost respect for the person, the position and all of that, but I think this is just a really bad idea the way we did it,” said Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy, referring to the Budget Review Committee’s recommendation. “I can’t fathom how that’s going to work.”

City attorney Stephen Bennett determined earlier this month that a director working under the Board of Aldermen wouldn’t have the same authority as one working for the mayor because aldermen don’t have purview over administrative functions.

A motion to restore the position in the mayor’s office passed 9-6 after a lengthy debate.

The board was still discussing the remainder of the budget as of presstime Tuesday. One of the group’s other major actions was to approve the creation of the new paving fund, which was one of the central features of Lozeau’s spending plan for fiscal 2015.

Her proposal calls for appropriating $1.3 million worth of state highway block grant money in the new fund, coupled with $700,000 worth of revenue from motor vehicle fees.

Aldermen approved the proposal on an 11-4 vote. Some expressed reservations about moving the money outside of the general fund portion of the budget – limiting the impact on the city’s tax cap – but all agreed that paving has been underfunded in recent years.

“We’ve all seen the effect of those prior decisions, which has been the deterioration of the city streets, to the point where often just an overcoat of asphalt is not enough and more work has to be done,” said Alderman-at-Large Jim Donchess.

“This is something that needs to be done,” Ward 5 Alderman Michael Soucy agreed, adding, “This is where we are.”

Among those who opposed the plan was Alderman-at-Large Dan Moriarty, who said residents voted to create the spending cap to limit spending to a sustainable level. Now is not the time to exceed that cap through a “loophole,” he said.

Special revenue funds are often self-sustaining and don’t figure into the spending cap, which ties the growth in government spending to inflation.

Ward 6 Alderman Paul Chasse came to a similar conclusion, saying he pledged previously never to vote to exceed the spending cap and viewed the mechanism at hand as a spending cap override.

“This is playing a game,” he said. “I don’t want to call it an end-run. I’ll call it creative financing. Any way you look at it, we’re over the cap.”

Ward 9 Alderman Ken Siegel also expressed reservations about how the revenue fund impacts the spending cap, but said he recognizes the overwhelming need to allocate more money for road repairs. Siegel said he could see no other means in the current budget to account for the amount of paving that’s necessary, given the money the city is obligated to appropriate through contracts each year.

Alderman-at-Large Diane Sheehan said the city has artificially suppressed the tax rate for years by cutting corners on paving. She supported the new fund, saying it would put a burden on future administrations to figure out how to budget responsibly for road repairs.

Ward 1 Alderman Sean McGuinness and Ward 3 Alderman David Schoneman joined Moriarty and Chasse in voting against the fund.

“I would have rather seen a harder look at this budget, this general budget, and I would have rather made the hard cuts than to set aside a special revenue fund for this,” McGuinness said.

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