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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Nashua alderman trim half a million dollars from city budget; board votes 11-4 to approve an overall spending plan of about $256 million.

NASHUA – After stumbling over small changes to the city budget earlier this month, members of the Board of Aldermen rallied Monday behind a string of cuts suggested by Ward 9 Alderman Ken Siegel, trimming more than half a million dollars from the annual spending package.

The board voted 11-4 to approve an overall city budget of about $256 million, with a general fund appropriation of close to $240.8 million. ...

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NASHUA – After stumbling over small changes to the city budget earlier this month, members of the Board of Aldermen rallied Monday behind a string of cuts suggested by Ward 9 Alderman Ken Siegel, trimming more than half a million dollars from the annual spending package.

The board voted 11-4 to approve an overall city budget of about $256 million, with a general fund appropriation of close to $240.8 million.

The four aldermen who voted against the budget – Sean McGuinness, David Schoneman, Paul Chasse and Dan Moriarty – pushed for larger spending reductions. They asked the board to reduce the bottom line by 1 percent, forcing all departments to absorb the impact.

When the idea failed to gain traction, Siegel outlined a series of smaller tweaks that helped bring the budget underneath Mayor Donnalee Lozeau’s proposal, while also shaving $110,000 off the appropriations for the
wastewater fund.

Siegel said he looked at transfer records to see how unspent money in the annual budget was shifted around to find areas where the board could cut costs without sacrificing services.

“Everybody could have done this work by asking, so if you were so inclined, the information was available if you chose to request it and spend the time,” he said. “This isn’t really superstar stuff. It’s just looking.”

The lion’s share of the money was cut from the city’s line item for pension contributions, which was reduced by $400,000, dropping from $19.8 million to about $19.4 million.

Siegel said the line has been overfunded for at least the past three years, and recently ran a surplus of more than $1 million. He said the city can tap two trust funds if money in the budget begins to run low.

“I believe it is entirely within any standard deviation we might have in this number,” he said, addressing the possibility of a spike in pension spending. “It’s been consistently overfunded.”

All 15 members of the board approved the change. Aldermen also unanimously approved reducing line items for fuel in the Streets Department by $60,000 and taking $25,000 out of the line for unemployment compensation.

The board also gave unanimous consent to changes that could help contain the increase in water and sewer rates for Nashua residents. Aldermen voted to reduce a line item in the wastewater budget for electricity by $100,000, and took an additional $10,000 out of the wastewater budget for fuel.

One of the few amendments that generated discussion was a proposal by Ward 5 Alderman Michael Soucy to trim $60,000 from the budget increase for the school district. A similar proposal was voted down last week after members of the Budget Review Committee pushed to restore money for the school district that had been eliminated by the mayor.

Alderman at Large Diane Sheehan opposed the cut, pointing out that Nashua is hoping to take over operations at The Brentwood School, an alternative school in Merrimack, and that the change could have an impact on spending. Ward 4 Alderwoman Pam Brown agreed.

“The Board of (Education) has come here. Many teachers have spoken, and the information they gave us, that was the bottom line. That was bare bones, and I think we need to support our schools, especially in light of this last minute issue with … the Merrimack program,” Brown said.

The measure passed 9-6, with Sheehan, Brown, Ward 2 Alderman Richard Dowd, Ward 8 Alderwoman Mary Ann Melizzi-Golja and Aldermen at Large Brian McCarthy and Lori Wilshire opposed.

Aldermen also approved cutting $20,000 from the $120,000 line item used to hire non-city employees to plow snow in the winter. The measure passed on a 12-3 vote.

The board rejected a motion by Siegel by a single vote to cut $50,000 from the line item for the sidewalk project, a move that was tantamount to eliminating the 10 percent contingency built into the project costs.

Aldermen also voted down a suggestion from Sheehan to eliminate the salary for the citizen services director, a proposal that came after a contentious debate earlier this month about whether to move the position under the wing of the Board of Aldermen. The motion failed on a 5-10 vote.

“I think of it as a liaison between the administration, the mayor’s office and the Board of Aldermen, and I appreciate the position,” McGuinness said.

In all, the board cut $565,000 from general fund appropriations before approving the budget Monday. The fiscal year began July 1, but aldermen faced an August deadline to finalize the package.

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