Nashua budget up more than $10 million

Mayor: Tax rate likely to increase 3 percent

Staff photo by Damien Fisher Mayor Jim Donchess prepares his remarks beore presenting his city budget proposal to the Board of Aldermen on Tuesday night.

NASHUA – The city budget is going up by a little more than $10 million under the proposal released Tuesday by Mayor Jim Donchess, partially reflecting financial pressure the city did not create.

“We are grappling with increases in costs over which we have no control,” Donchess said.

The General Fund budget for fiscal 2018, which begins July 1, is $258,394,971, up 4.3 percent, or more than $10 million, over 2017’s $247,886,768. The overall effect of the budget on the tax rate is estimated to be about a 3 percent increase, Donchess said.

Donchess said the city has to deal with large ticket bills it did not create, such as the $2 million increase in pensions and the $3.6 million increase in health care costs, and the $400,000 increase in the Pennichuck water rates.

“These costs are beyond our control,” Donchess said.

With the space available under the cap, Donchess wanted to focus the budget on his main priorities: kindergarten and dealing with the opioid abuse crisis.

Under his proposal, Nashua will have full-day kindergarten at all city schools. Donchess said this is vital for the students and their families. Children who attend full-day kindergarten are more likely to stay in school and to get better grades during their academic career, he said.

“Research shows that for the kids involved, there are much better outcomes,” he said.

Kindergarten is also vital to Nashua’s economy, Donchess said. The quality of the school system is typically the first question asked when someone is looking to relocate to Nashua, he said. For business leaders looking to bring in companies and move employees with families, the school system is important, he said.

Donchess said 70 percent of New Hampshire school systems already have full-day kindergarten, and that Nashua needs to keep up to continue to attract businesses to the city.

On the opioid front, the budget keeps essential departments such as school, police and fire staffed and budgeted in order to continue to provide the services needed, Donchess said. Schoolteachers and administrators deal with a host of issues related to the opioid crisis, Donchess said.

“They’re dealing with educational a social challenges related to the opioid crisis,” he said.

Donchess said the police and fire departments have made significant impacts on the problem. The Safe Stations program operated out the city’s fire stations has seen hundred of people come for help. So far in April, 60 people have gone to a fire station to get help with their addiction through the Safe Stations program, Donchess said.

Police have made a large impact, recording more than 1,000 drug-related arrests since the start of 2016, Donchess said. So far this month, there have been three overdoses recorded in Nashua.

“It hasn’t been that low in two years,” Donchess said.

Keeping up the the efforts of police, fire and teachers in Nashua is a priority for Donchess in his budget.

Despite the overall increase in the budget, the proposal prepared by Donchess manages to be $1.9 million under the spending cap, although that achievement is the subject of some controversy.

The Board of Aldermen recently approved an ordinance shifting the way the wastewater enterprise fund was accounted for, taking it entirely out of the General Fund. This move created about $9 million of spending cap space for 2018. However, Fred Teeboom, the former alderman and author of Nashua’s 20-year-old spending cap, is suing the city, claiming that the wastewater ordinance subverted the law he crafted.

Ongoing coverage of the proposed budget will continue, with reaction from members of the Board of Aldermen in Thursday’s Telegraph.