Nashua passes $317M budget; $11M increase from FY 2019

NASHUA – U.S. Census Bureau Data show the Gate City gained about 3,000 residents from 2010 to 2018 – and as Nashua grows, so does its level of government spending.

During the Tuesday Board of Aldermen meeting, members voted, 13-1, to approve the $317 million budget plan for fiscal year 2020, which begins July 1. This reflects an increase of about $11 million from the amount originally approved for FY 2019.

Voting to approve the budget were members June Caron, Richard Dowd, Linda Harriott-Gathright, Ernest Jette, Shoshanna Kelly, Patricia Klee, Brandon Michael Laws, Thomas Lopez, Michael O’Brien, Mary Ann Melizz-Golja, Jan Schmidt, David Tencza and Lori Wilshire. Alderman Ken Gidge was absent.

The only member to vote in opposition was the newest one, Ben Clemons. This is because he had sought to add $113,000 to the Police Department line item, as well as another $100,000 to the Nashua Fire Rescue line item, all in the name of the city’s population gains.

“We need to make the investments, and we need to say what are the things that we need to do as a city to help our departments manage that growth,” Clemons said in advocating his position.

“My two cents, Alderman Clemons. We will do that when the state stops passing costs down to us,” Wilshire, who serves as BOA president, said in response. “That’s my opinion.”

Budget Details

Mayor Jim Donchess said the main challenge in preparing the budget this year was the $3.3 million increase for employee health care, which amounts to about an 11% increase. That presented a sizable challenge while trying to keep taxes and budget increases as moderate as possible. He also said the remainder of the budget only went up 1.6%, but because of this health care increase, the overall budget increased by 2.86%.

“As a result, I gave budget guidelines to the departments of 2.25% for the major service providers, those being schools, fire and police. And those are the numbers that I held them to,” Donchess said. “The other departments were given targets of 1.75%.”

Donchess said the increase in funding for schools, which results in $200,000 for the hiring of English Language Learner (ELL) teachers, is above the 2.25% that the school department submitted. Donchess said this funding would remain in the contingency account until the BOA votes to release it to meet the priorities of the school department, which indicates these ELL teachers are at the top of the list.

“We can achieve a 3% tax increase; we can meet the challenge of an 11% increase in health care costs: and we can make some improvements in both service and infrastructure at the same,” Donchess said.

As a whole, he said the budget accomplishes what officials expected. Other items the budget funds include:

• 30 miles of paving plus 31 miles of crack-sealing this year to improve city infrastructure;

• An energy manager and a grant writer, both of which are expected to pay for themselves through time;

• Imagine Nashua 2040, which is the first city-wide master plan in 20 years; and

• More fire dispatchers to handle the increased number of calls.

The board ultimately voted to amend the budget in its entirety, replacing it with the proposed amendments the Budget Review Committee made by roll call. In clarifying what that amendment is, Dowd said when the budget was presented, Kelly made a motion to increase the budget by $65,000 to address the cost of two school paraeducators and a counselor. That ended up passing during the committee meeting, and required the necessary votes during BOA session to amend the budget, which it did receive. Kelly said it still keeps things at 3%, but allows the city to give the schools more support.

“We actually voted to put that in the contingency, so the money wouldn’t be used unless we hire those people,” Kelly said. “So, it will go into the same contingency with the $200,000 for the other paras (ELL teachers).”

The $200,000 is in the budget, and requires the majority of the board to pass, whereas the additional $65,000 is in the amendment, which then required eight votes by the board.

Other Agenda Items

As far as other agenda items go, Resolution 18-073 as amended moved forward in its eighth reading when Caron made a motion to submit it to city voters. She said this resolution is necessary, and that it be submitted to the voters by placing it on the ballot for the Nov. 5 Municipal General Election. In short, the resolution proposes an amendment to the city charter relative to filling vacancies on elected board by majority vote of the remaining members of that board. The issue arose as a result of high costs to hold special elections, that have typically drawn very few voters to the polls.

Another item moving forward is Resolution 19-136, which authorizes the formation of two voluntary nonprofit corporations for the planned Performing Arts Center. That resolution received final passage. As a fiscal note, minimal cost will be needed for the startup of both nonprofit corporations, not exceeding $1,000.

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