Teeboom gets day in court over spending cap
CONCORD – Former Nashua alderman Fred Teeboom took his ongoing quarrel with Gate City officials all the way to the New Hampshire Supreme Court on Wednesday, as he continues trying to enforce a spending cap he helped institute in Nashua 25 years ago.
Teeboom was not the only Nashuan in Concord on Wednesday, as audience members included city Assessing Department critic Laurie Ortolano, along with Board of Education members Doris Hohensee and Howard Coffman.
When state legislators in 2011 crafted SB2, the bill in which they addressed the legality and enforcability of tax and spending caps in several New Hampshire cities and towns, they spelled out quite clearly that all existing caps were to be “ratified, validated, legalized and fully enforcable,” Teeboom’s attorney told the five Supreme Court justices.
Further, in the view of longtime Concord-based attorney Chuck Douglas III, the wording in the final sentence, which states all caps shall remain fully enforcable “without regard to whether they were authorized by law at the time” the caps were adopted, pretty much cements Teeboom’s argument that Superior Court Judge Charles Temple erred when he ruled Nashua’s cap unenforceable in his 2018 order.
However, Nashua Corporation Counsel Steve Bolton argued that if legislators had intended the provision to read as Douglas interprets it, the authors of the bill “would have stopped the provision with the words ‘legalize’ and ‘fully enforcable’ – period,” he said.
Legislators “would not have had to add ‘without regard to whether such entities or actions were authorized by law at the time they were established,” Bolton added.
Teeboom, a former alderman who ran unsuccessfully in the March special election to fill the seat left vacant by the death of longtime Alderman Brian McCarthy, was a key figure in the crafting, and passage, of the spending cap, which was adopted in 1994.
He sued the city and Mayor Jim Donchess in 2017, claiming the city violated the cap by enacting a new accounting system for the city’s wastewater budget.
Teeboom, who represented himself at first, eventually brought Douglas, himself a former Supreme Court justice, aboard.
Former Alderman Dan Moriarty, who later joined the lawsuit, was not present for Wednesday’s arguments.
Douglas, meanwhile, told the justices he and his client are not seeking a remand regarding Temple’s ruling.
“There’s nothing to remand … we’re two budgets later,” Douglas said, referring to the allegations Teeboom raised about the wastewater funds issue during the 2017 budget process.
“The key here is to correct (the part of Temple’s ruling) that states the current version of the spending cap violates state law, and is unenforceable,” Douglas said.
“That’s the error. It does not violate state law, and it is enforcable.”
In crafting SB2 in 2011, Douglas continued, the Legislature “set out the rules” regarding spending and tax caps “because there weren’t any.” Any caps that existed at that time, he said, “were grandfathered in,” meaning they were allowed to remain in effect, according to Douglas’s and Teeboom’s interpretation.
Meanwhile, Bolton argued the way he sees it, the final sentence in the 2011 bill “modified the entire section.” He also argued the wording “only talks about protecting these prior-adopted provisions from a tax, based on the fact” the caps were not authorized by state law “at the time they were established.”
Bolton also pointed out to the justices that the role of Nashua’s spending cap, as with most others, limits only those expenditures that would cause an increase in property taxes.
But this case, Bolton continued, “is all about excluding from the calculations of the spending cap expenditures of monies raised by sewer fees, not from taxes.”
As he sees it, Bolton said, the fact the spending cap came into play in the 2017 battle over sewer fees – not property taxes – is another reason the cap “violates the provisions of the state statute.”
When the justices will hand down their ruling is difficult to estimate. Observers say they have seen rulings issued just days after oral arguments, but it has taken months at other times.
Dean Shalhoup may be reached at 594-1256, firstname.lastname@example.org or, @Telegraph_DeanS.