Donchess wants $317 million budget; $11M increase

Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess spreads paperwork across a table, scanning through information while exploring the city’s $317 million budget plan for fiscal year 2020.

NASHUA – With plans to add a grant writer, an energy manager, teachers, school psychologists and paraeducators, not to mention an 11 percent hike in the cost of employee health care, Mayor Jim Donchess seeks to increase spending by nearly $11 million in fiscal year 2020.

In all, Nashua would spend about $317.4 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1, an amount which exceeds the $306.9 million originally approved for FY 2019.

With the city’s official U.S. Census Bureau population estimate now standing at 88,341, Nashua intends to spend $3,592.53 per resident in FY 2020.

“I have proposed a budget which maintains the quality of services and increases them to some degree, I think, but in essence, holds the line. And the bottom line being that we need to deliver a tax increase of 3 percent of less,” Donchess said at the Tuesday Board of Aldermen meeting, during which he formally introduced the new budget proposal.

As a result of this pressure and the need to keep the tax rate as low as possible, Donchess requested the departments provide him with budget plans that would not increase by more than 2.25 percent from fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2020.

However, he said the major departments did not believe they could do that, so they proposed budget increases that exceeded that number. He said the city’s major departments are school, police and fire.

School

English Language Learner students are those for whom English is not their native tongue. Nearly 12 percent of students attending city schools now fit this definition. The total number of 1,244 ELL students has more than doubled in the last 10 years.

Donchess said the school department requested for a number of ELL teachers to be added to the budget. In addition to the ELL teachers, there are also requests for additional school psychologists and paraeducators.

Statistics provided by the New Hampshire Department of Education state that as of Oct. 1, 2016, the Nashua School District employed one teacher for every 12.7 students. The statewide ratio at the time was one teacher for every 11.9 students.

Recently, Nashua School District officials reported ELL students now outnumber their teachers in the classroom by ratios as high as 73 to 1.

“My budget increases the school department by 2.25 percent, but in addition, because of the, I think the very eloquent case that many people have made for the need for ELL teachers, it also includes in addition to that, $200,000 in contingency designated for school ELL teachers,” Donchess said.

If the school department wishes to use those funds for that purpose, the money could be released either during the budget process or afterwards to help meet the ELL need. Donchess said that would provide enough funds for four additional ELL teachers.

The new budget also shows Donchess plans to spend nearly $82 million on salaries for full-time school employees. This reflects an increase of roughly $5 million from the amount approved to pay full-time school employees for the current fiscal year.

Fire and Police

As for the Fire Department, the major challenge has been dispatch.

“The number of calls has grown exponentially over the last few years with no increase in dispatchers,” Donchess said. “They are now up to 11,000 calls that they are fielding every year.”

He said this budget collects revenue from the ambulance contract, and that he is confident the city can negotiate a payment of approximately $350,000 from the ambulance company, which he said is standard in the industry to help defray the cost of the additional dispatchers.

“In the Police Department, the major challenge is the number of officers,” Donchess said. “They have been down for some period of time, usually because they are not able to fill all the positions.”

As a result, he said there are some accumulated funds in the payroll account which they have been able to use. He believes the city can maintain the number of officers, and perhaps add a few. However, he said in one year, they may not be able to get to the full number that are authorized, which is 179.

New Positions

Another item within the budget includes some changes recommended by the recent assessing audit. The position of chief assessor does not appear in the new budget, as the audit recommended that it be eliminated. However, in exchange, the position of administrative services director has returned to the city budget. This was once a position in City Hall in management of assessing and other related functions.

There are also two totally new positions funded in the budget, both of which Donchess believes are positions that will pay for themselves.

“There is an energy manager position that would review energy saving projects in detail, and those can be extremely complicated if you want to do them right with city officials and with the school department to try to realize savings both in the school buildings, city buildings and also generate other potentially energy generating projects that we could undertake,” Donchess said.

The budget also includes funding for a grant writer, a position that is not currently specified by the city.

Donchess and the school officials believe significantly more grant funding could be obtained by employing someone to specifically seek them.

“The school department had one for a little while, but that was phased out because of budget needs,” Donchess said. “Having now discussed this with the Superintendent, Dr. (Jahmal) Mosley, we have agreed that we will split the cost and then jointly utilize the person to try to bring in additional funds. Again, a position that I believe can ultimately pay for itself.”

“I think it is a tight budget, but one that attempts to meet some significant needs like the ELL teachers, like the dispatchers and the other issues that I’ve mentioned,” he said.

Donchess said these issues will be discussed further during the budget hearings, which are scheduled to occur during the next couple of months.

Adam Urquhart may be contacted at 594-1206, or at aurquhart@nashuatelegraph.com.