Manchester charter commission considering $15,000 a year for elected officials
MANCHESTER - The city's aldermen and school board members would lose their health benefits but see about a four-fold increase in their annual stipends under a proposal approved by the Charter Commission Wednesday.
The panel voted 5-4 to back a proposal to eliminate the health and dental coverage for the elected officials, while increasing their stipends to $15,000. The aldermen now get $4,000 a year; members of the school board get $2,000.
At the same time, the commission narrowly rejected two proposals that would have altered the tax cap.
The panel voted on more than a dozen proposals, none of which represent final decisions. The public will get a chance to weigh in on them at a hearing next Wednesday at 6 p.m. at City Hall. Ultimately, a pared-down slate of questions will go on the November ballot.
The health benefits have long been a controversial issue, since the aldermen and school board members serve on a part-time basis, and they are unevenly enjoyed by the officials.
The debate Wednesday began with a motion from Commissioner Rich Girard to eliminate the benefits entirely, without any consideration of the stipend.
"Many people who have run for city office didn't realize they could participate in the benefit plan, but it's amazing how many of them will drop their existing plan to take those benefits," said Girard, a former alderman. "I do think there are people who continue to run because they get comfortable with the benefits."
This motion failed by a 5-4 vote, but a subsequent motion to couple the elimination of benefits with a boost in the stipend passed 5-4.
Supporters of the proposal have argued that the salary is appropriate considering the time demanded of the elected officials, and that it is unfair to pay aldermen more than school board members.
Girard disagreed. "I don't think the boards are equal. I believe the Board of Mayor and Aldermen is a superior board. It has the greater authority," he said. "It has 23 departments to deal with in addition to the schools; the school board just has the schools."
On each of the boards, 10 of the 14 members are currently receiving health or dental coverage or both from the city or district. For the current fiscal year, the school district estimates its share of premiums for a board member's family plan will cost $4,000 to $5,000. Its share for the dental plan is $417. This doesn't represent the full cost of the plans; since the city and district are self-insured, they must pay for individual claims.
Voting in favor of the proposal were Commissioners Jerome Duval, Christine Martin, Lou D'Allesandro, Mike Lopez and John Clayton. Opposed were Commissioners Girard, Will Infantine, Nick Pappas and Skip Ashooh.
Tax cap proposals
The commission was unable to advance two proposals concerning the tax cap, which has been one of the most controversial issues facing the panel.
One proposal put forward by Commissioner Christine Martin would have made the tax cap apply only to spending, not revenue.
The idea was backed by the city's finance director, who in prior testimony before the panel said Manchester's tax cap was uniquely restrictive since it applied both to increases in budgets and tax rates.
"This conversation is particularly ripe given we're in budget season on both sides. The majority of officials in discussing their budgets are stuck. There's very little room for creativity," Martin said.
Several members of the panel argued that voters had spoken clearly when they approved the tax cap, and that it was "disparaging" to question their judgement, in the words of Girard.
But Democrats on the panel, who enjoy a 5-4 advantage, said voters may have a different point of view, now that they've witnessed the effect of the tax cap over the past two years.
"We voted for it, yes," said Commissioner John Clayton. "But people voted for Prohibition at one time. I think the notion of giving voters another bite at the apple might be a good thing."
But Commissioner Mike Lopez, a Democrat, cautioned against placing the issue among the charter questions, which voters must approve or reject in their entirety.
"I think it's going to take a lot more education" of voters," Lopez said. "I think the better process for this might be where the aldermen put this separately on the ballot."
Martin's proposal to eliminate the revenue component of the tax cap was tabled.
A subsequent motion to reduce the super-majority required to override the tax cap from 10 to nine of the 14 aldermen failed by a vote of 5-4.
Voting against the proposal were Commissioners Lopez, Girard, Infantine, Pappas and Ashooh. Voting in favor were Duval, Martin, D'Allesandro and Clayton.
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Jeff Powers said:
The tax cap has been voted in or on twice by the citizens and passed both times.This budget round no one loses their job.There are two pizza guys on the Board, one goes out of his way to tell the in crowd that they run for office for the benefits of the health insurance.The question I have for a charter member is if you were elected and really had been living long enough out of state that under NH state law you would be required to change your residency. How come no one has looked in to that. Living on a boat out of state for months on end should be something wrong with that , when you get elected to and office for the people. oh wait a minute they come from a very political family, maybe no one will notice. A raise for the alderman, when the news broke a big grin came to Danny Os face , he was heard humming his favorite new song sung to the music of amazing grace "On the backs of the tax payers , we shall climb..."What about the horse?How come Will does not sit in JK lap when the cable access show is on?$15,000 a year for all you can get a way with , you get your own seat at city hall. But for a curb cut here and a street light there, patch the road out front of the friends house, make sure a certain street is plowed early and often. Before you know it there will be another angle to dip into the pockets of the tax payers pocket. The charter commission is just the launching pad of new ideas to **** the tax payers dry. Make sure you watch the one member who wants to be elected to higher office so bad he cries at home about it, it has become all consuming, scheming, and they must get them selves elected elected. Guess who that is? But there is no Lou in the persons name.
March 21, 2013 2:43 am
Tammy Simmons said:
Mess with the Spending Cap and you will guarantee that the charter amendments (regardless of what they are) will fail. Voters will vote on the changes in ONE VOTE.....all of the changes at once. Eliminating health benefits - I think people would support that. Tripling alderman's salaries - that will probably be a deal breaker. I'm sure there are plenty of people who will remind voters that State Reps and State Senators get paid $100 a year. If you don't want to be alderman for $5000/yr - don't run. If you are only there for the insurance benefits, too bad.
March 21, 2013 8:30 am
Tammy Simmons said:
John Clayton's remarks that "people voted for Prohibition at one time. I think the notion of giving voters another bite at the apple might be a good thing".....infers that the spending cap was voted on long ago and people really should have another chance to vote on this out of date policy. Alas, the spending cap was on the ballot in 2009 when 54.4% of voters supported it. It was again on the ballot again in 2011 and received 60% of the voters' support. In BOTH years, voters also elected predominantly Democrat aldermen. I can't imagine why anyone could objectively believe that voters in Manchester dislike the spending cap when they support it even when they simultaneously elect Democrats. Try and change it, and the charter amendments fail.
March 21, 2013 8:49 am
Elizabeth Varkas said:
Why are we even considering this? All news reports indicate that Manchester is not meeting their budgets, laying off teachers, eliminating necessary resources and suddenly, twice this month, we've heard of raises for our Mayor and now increases for the Aldermen and School Board Members. These discussions are a slap in the face to all Manchester residents who have had to cut back due to the ecomony. Reminds me of Congress debating about giving themselves raises at the same time we are in the midst of trying to balance a budget and taking away social security benefits, decreasing veterans pay and college tuition,,, the list goes on and on. What are you thinking??????
March 21, 2013 8:56 am
mike porter said:
So under this new charter recommendation we have the following: current School Board: Salary is $28,000. For the sake of math...lets say each member takes the family medical plan at a cost of $5000 per. This brings the total School board salary and benefits to approximately: $98,000. Current Aldermen: Salary is approx $56,000. Lets say each member takes the family medical plan at $5000 per. This brings total salary and benefits to nearly: $126,000 . Combined we have: $224,000 between the aldermen and school board. Looking at the math...the charter commissioners are recommending eliminating the health benefits and paying a salary of $15,000 per elected school board and aldermanic member. This equals: $420,000. The difference is an increase of $196,000. This is without the increase to the mayors salary which would add an additional $40,000 in increases this commission is recommending. Adding that to the School board and Aldermanic numbers, this charter commission is recommending an increase of $236,000 at a time when teachers have been laid off and services have been reduced and taxes are going up? Send a strong message to this commission and if these questions actually make it to the ballot....vote NO to the recommendations put together by this commission. They are doing a Disservice to this city by even thinking to recommend these types of increases. Too many cooks in the kitchen right now. How many more boards and commissions do we need at this point....really. Enough.
March 21, 2013 11:18 am
Elizabeth Varkas said:
Mike Porter,,, exactly! hello? We are laying off people, eliminating services, losing monetary support from neighboring cities because of our over-crowded, understaffed classooms, and they are seriously suggesting something like this. I just couldnt believe it!. Wake up, people!
March 21, 2013 1:31 pm
Tammy Simmons said:
Mike Porter - on increasing salaries, we agree. I suggest we cut the free insurance benefits for aldermen and school committee altogether. Offer them a buy in where they pay the premium, but it should not be free. I also say no increases for the aldermen, the school committee or the mayor. People know ahead of time what the copmpemsation for those elected positions are before they throw their name into the hat.
March 21, 2013 3:43 pm
Tammy Simmons said:
Elizabeth Varkas - it is NOT the mayor or the aldermen or the school committee members who are suggesting these changes - it is the charter commission. As far as cuts in services - I have not experienced any cuts in any services. My trash still gets picked up. the roads still get plowed. We still ahve a police department and a fire department. heck - city clerk's office actually has evening hours one night a week - so that actually has improved services from my perspective. As far as schools, we have a continual decline in students - to think that we would not eventually have more staff than we once needed when we had more students is just silly.
March 21, 2013 3:47 pm
mike porter said:
Tammy Simmons: The laying off of school teachers IS in fact a cut in services. Not replacing employees after they leave in order to reduce the budget...IS a reduction in services. Cutting back the amount of money given to chartiable resources throughout the city IS a reduction in services. You say " We still have a police department and a fire department" Sure...but they are understaffed. Neither emergency service department is up to its full compliment. Stop thinking in a short sighted manner and look at the whole picture. So when you say you have not experienced any cuts in services...the loss of teachers, the lack of hiring a full compliment of police and fire...IS a cut in services...yet our taxes still go up. So when taxes go up and services go down...you are paying more for less. Not very difficult to understand Ms. Simmons.
March 21, 2013 5:13 pm
Tammy Simmons said:
Mike - you and I will have to disagree. I will use the trash collection as an example. If we were to reduce the number of employees who collect the trash - and the trash continued to be collected just the same - then there is no reduction in services. You look at things in the numbers of employees, I look at the actual services provided. Employing people is not a service and the government's role is not to create or maintain public sector jobs.
March 21, 2013 5:23 pm
mike porter said:
Tammy you are correct with your evaluation...if a job can be done with less...without any interruption...then we agree, but when you look at vital services in the city which are reduced and our taxes still go up, that is effectively a cut in services. This charter commission is all over the place with their ideas. I wonder if this commission truly understands their role to "review" the charter for areas that need improvement. It seems this commission is just throwing ideas out to see what sticks. The reality is....if they go after the tax cap....or try to increase salaries...everything on the agenda will be soundly defeated. This commission seems to have lost sight of their role. From the meetings I have watched it seems that a few seem to be using their position on the commission as their platform for future elections. based on the lengthy speeches given by some...the political posturing by others, this particular commission seems to be riddled with commissioners who like to hear themselves speak .
March 21, 2013 9:35 pm
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