Budget hearing draws small crowd

$258 million proposed for 2018

Staff photo by DAMIEN FISHER Mayor Jim Donchess and city CFO John Griffin present the proposed $258 million budget at a public hearing Tuesday night in the Nashua High School North.

NASHUA – About 70 people, including elected officials and city employees, came out Tuesday night for the public hearing on the $258 million budget proposed by Mayor Jim Donchess.

The hearing, held in the auditorium at Nashua High School North, was the first chance for members of the public to have their say on the budget for fiscal year 2018, which starts on July 1.

Nashua’s CFO John Griffin said the $258 million budget comes in $1.9 million under the city’s spending cap. The budget represents a 4 percent increase over the 2017 budget of $247 million. The budget is projected to result in a 3.2 percent increase to Nashua’s tax rate, Griffin said.

Griffin said Nashua needs to be prepared for less financial help from the state going into 2019, and more costs related to city employees. The 2019 spending cap is estimated to be set at 1.6 percent, meaning there will be about $4 million of space under the 2019 cap.

Some residents questioned the spending under the proposed budget, citing the rise in costs to health insurance and kindergarten. Resident Paula Johnson questioned the need for full day kindergarten.

“I’ve heard studies that say kids do not need kindergarten full day,” Johnson said.

Former Alderman Fred Teeboom, who is currently suing the city over issues related to the budget, questioned the amount paid in city pensions. He lumped city employees like police officers and firefighters into a “government elite” because they earn pensions for their service which pays more in retirement than private citizens typically realize. Teeboom also questioned the need to create private sector jobs in the city.

The city is dealing with large ticket bills it did not create, such as the $2 million increase in pensions, the $3.6 million increase in health care costs and the $400,000 increase in the Pennichuck water rates.

Donchess focused the budget on two main priorities – full-day 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 when he first unveiled the budget.

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. School teachers and administrators deal with a host of issues related to the opioid crisis, Donchess has said.

The mayor said the police and fire departments have made significant impacts on the problem. The Safe Stations program, first implemented in November 2016 after a successful run in Manchester, operated out the city’s fire stations has seen hundred of people come for help.

Police have made a large impact, recording more than 1,000 drug-related arrests since the start of 2016, Donchess said.