April 17. 2013 12:13AM

Manchester aldermen reject tax cap referendum

New Hampshire Union Leader

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen rejected a proposal to place the tax cap on the ballot, after a tense debate at its meeting Tuesday night.

The vote was 10-4 against drafting a motion to repeal the tax cap, which has been the subject of years of controversy and legal battles.

"If people don't want the tax cap, they're more than welcome to collect the signatures (to put it on the ballot)," said Ward 10 Alderman Phil Greazzo, a strong proponent of the cap.

He added that the Charter Commission is already considering a slate of changes that could include the tax cap, although the commission has so far been unable to move forward with any proposals concerning the cap.

"This would be two bites of the apple," Greazzo added. "And it only takes 10 votes (by the aldermen) to override the tax cap."

The proposal was made by Ward 5 Alderman Ed Osborne, who likened the tax cap to governing "with handcuffs on."

"I have no problem with what people want, but we want to make sure, after they've seen a couple budgets, that this is what they really want," he said. "How long can we do this? I guess God only knows."

Ward 12 Alderman Patrick Arnold joined other Democrats in rejecting the proposal, saying the Charter Commission should be allowed to do its work.

Alderman Jim Roy expressed misgivings about the legal opinion offered by the city's assistant legal counsel, Tom Arnold, who said that his office had a "difference of opinion" with the Secretary of State's Office on the legality of having a charter amendment separate from the commission's proposals. Arnold said this opinion was based on an "off-the-cuff" discussion with the state office.

"I don't have a warm and fuzzy right now," Roy said. "I think this will end up in court."

Mayor Ted Gatsas argued strongly in favor of keeping the cap.

"People around their kitchen tables are having to make the same hard choices we are," he said.

Ward 2 Alderman Ron Ludwig argued passionately against the tax cap.

"I just don't have people coming up to me, telling me they're going to lose their homes because their taxes went up last year," he said. "I do have people coming up to me and saying they wouldn't mind paying a little more to reduce class sizes."

He added, "I'm not deaf, dumb and blind - there's been a slow deterioration of the city."

Those voting to place the cap on the ballot were Aldermen Osborne, Ludwig, Joyce Craig and Pat Long.

Voting against were Aldermen Greazzo, Roy, Arnold, Normand Gamache, Dan O'Neil, Joe Kelly Levasseur, William Shea, Tom Katsiontonis, Barbara Shaw and Garth Corriveau.