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Berlin tax hike not expected to be as high as once thought

Special to the Union Leader

May 20. 2013 7:02PM

BERLIN — Berlin property owners will likely face a hike in their local 2013 taxes, but not as much as first feared.

Residents will get to have their say on the fiscal year 2014 proposed budget on Monday, May 29 at a public hearing which begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Berlin City Hall auditorium.

Estimates as to the tax rate increase range from more than $1.50 per $1,000 valuation, to less than a dollar,. The increase is unknown until the budget is adopted in June, the books on FY 2013 are closed, and all revenues are accounted for, with the state Department of Revenue Administration doing the final arithmetic.

Early in the budget process, Mayor Paul Grenier said it was one of the most challenging budgets in his many years of civic service. In March, City Manager Patrick MacQueen cited a drop in non-property tax revenues as one of the reasons for a projected tax increase of up to $4 per $1,000 valuation.

The mayor and city council will present a budget of $37,378,510 for FY 2014, an amount which includes spending items that are offset by grants and other revenues. The total proposed for the general fund budget is $31,688, 534.

For FY 2013, the council approved a $38,251,745 budget, with a general fund budget of $32,603,399.

At its May 13 meeting, the council voted on the line item figures that have been published in the public hearing budget. Included in those figures are $1,961,510 for general government FY 2014 (FY 2013 was $1,986,022); public safety, $5,485,069 (FY 2013: $5,287,794); housing coordinator, $96,165 (FY 2013: $80,443); public works, $2,539,605, (FY 2013: $2,580,806); community service, $1,144,370 (FY 2013: $1,161,484); and city debt and city capital improvements, $1,467,527 (FY 2013: $2,202,171).

The budget proposed for the Berlin School District is $16,792,801 for the operating budget, $333,848 in debt service, and $95,000 for capital improvements. The total school general funding proposal is $17,221,649 (FY 2013: $17,464,633). There is a nearly $400,000 decrease in the school's debt service.

At the May 13 meeting, school board chair Nicole Plourde pointed out that though it looked like the school system's budget increased, it actually represents a decrease. Previously, the city included the school's property liability insurance in its budget.

Also at that meeting, councilors discussed the additional funds necessary to put positions cut in this budget cycle back in the budget. Included in that discussion were $18,000 for a part-time clerk, $11,,000 for a part-time inspector, $170,000 for two firefighters, minus $30,000 for overtime budgeted; a position in the Berlin Public Works Department for $58,000; a Solid Waste position for $56,000; and a part-time Parks & Recreation position made full-time for $48,000.

On Friday, Grenier said he thinks the tax increase could be around 70 cents and that several positions cut from the budget could be restored.

In FY 2013, the city's 2012 tax rate was $32.31 per thousand. The municipal portion of the tax was $16.69. The previous year the tax rate was $31.70, of which the municipal portion was $17.22.

Though the city's tax rate is high, property assessments are generally lower than other municipalities in the state, particularly from the southeastern corner of New Hampshire. According to census data, the median value of an owner-occupied home in 2007-2011 was $98,600. At that time, the median value for the state as a whole was $250,000.

Total valuation in 2012 was $432,170,216. The previous year, the city's valuation was $436,225,540.

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