Former alderman sues city
Teeboom accuses mayor, aldermen of violating spending cap
NASHUA – Former Alderman Fred Teeboom is suing the city over the recently passed wastewater ordinance that he says is a violation of Nashua’s spending cap law.
“An ordinance cannot supersede the charter, but the latest affront has been an ordinance sponsored by Mayor (Jim) Donchess in clear violation of the charter and in a misguided attempt to erode the cap,” Teeboom said.
Aldermen voted last week 9-6 in favor of an ordinance that moves all of the city’s wastewater enterprise fund out of the city’s general budget. The wastewater enterprise fund doesn’t use taxpayer money, but instead gets revenue from sewer system user fees.
Donchess said the city’s practice of accounting for part of the wastewater budget in the general fund, and part out of the general fund, was a legal liability. The real sticking point for Teeboom, though, appears to be the secondary result of the move, which frees up about $9 million in space under the spending cap for fiscal 2018.
Nashua had been facing a budget crisis heading into 2018 because of rising pension costs, electricity rates and other factors. Without the space created by the wastewater ordinance move, the city would have been forced to cut vital services, Donchess said.
Donchess said if Teeboom is successful in court – a proposition he said he doubts – the city would have to look at those severe cuts again.
“The end result will be huge cuts to city services like police and fire and the schools,” Donchess said. “That will mean more heroin, more overdoses and more dropouts.”
Teeboom calls the wastewater ordinance an “end run” around the spending cap law, which he authored more than 20 years ago. The spending cap law allows for the Board of Aldermen to override the cap with the vote of at least 10 aldermen. The wastewater ordinance only required a simple majority of eight aldermen in order to pass.
Teeboom’s court filing states that Donchess and the board violated the city charter in voting for the wastewater ordinance, a charge Donchess emphatically denies. Donchess said Teeboom’s lawsuit is doomed to fail.
“The lawsuit will not, in the end, be successful,” Donchess said.
Donchess said Teeboom and others have been looking to cut city government for years, but it’s a move that doesn’t make sense. The city recently had its bond rating upgraded to AAA by Standard & Poor’s, citing strong fiscal management. Standard & Poor’s credited good government and a strong economy, and in small part the spending cap, for the higher rating.
The city has a low unemployment rate and is attracting new businesses, but it is also in need of work, Donchess said. Resources such as police, fire and the city’s health division are needed to help combat the opioid epidemic, he said.
“Our police made 749 drug arrests last year,” Donchess said. “Are we supposed to cut back on that? The heroin dealers would be ecstatic.”
Teeboom’s lawsuit is filed as a writ of mandamus, a little-used court action to require a government entity to follow a particular law or rule. A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for May, and the city will respond to the lawsuit in the next 30 days, Donchess said.