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Not all Manchester officials OK with city spending its surplus

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 02. 2013 11:36PM

MANCHESTER — With a deadline looming for decisions about city spending in the fiscal year that begins four weeks from today, officials said efforts to broker a budget compromise continue.

Under the city charter, the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen must adopt a budget by June 11, or the mayor's proposed budget takes effect. As was the case a year ago, school spending is the most contentious of budget decisions facing aldermen.

Mayor Ted Gatsas and the Board of School Committee have been about $1.8 million apart on school spending for next year. Gatsas, who has steadfastly maintained that as mayor he has an obligation to present budgets that fit into the city's tax cap, has proposed a strict tax cap school budget of $155.7 million, representing an increase of 2.17 percent over the current year.

The Board of School Committee has approved two budgets, one allocating the $155.7 million available under the tax cap, and the other a so-called "school approval" budget, calling for $159.5 million that would restore some of the staff trimmed in school system cutbacks last year. The school approval budget would increase spending by 4.67 percent.

A year ago, aldermen overrode a veto by Gatsas and allocated an additional $2 million for the schools, much of it from a budget surplus. Ward 1 Alderman Joyce Craig, who proposed using the surplus funds last year, has been working on a similar plan for the 2014 fiscal year. Recent estimates have pegged the surplus at $1.69 million.

Craig won't publicly reveal specifics of her plan, saying that "conversations" are continuing over its final form.

"It's addressing needs on the city side and the school side," Craig said.

While the mayor vetoed the use of surplus money a year ago, Gatsas said Sunday that talks are continuing on ways to use surplus money that won't conflict with his opposition to using one-time funds to finance on-going city operations.

"I've got to see (their) budget. I have had conversations with aldermen, I think we can come to a place where we all can agree," Gatsas said.

In the budget he proposed a few months ago, Gatsas elected not to fund all the city's expected severance payments from next year's property tax revenue, instead telling department heads to, essentially, find a way to pay it from their operating budgets — which could mean some reductions in city services.

But if Gatsas agrees to spending one-time money for the one-time expense of severance payments, city departments would no longer need to earmark tax dollars for severance.

Aldermen say the compromise budget being talked about could provide nearly $1 million to schools and city departments.

"I think it is a very good idea because I think we need to support our school district and our departments," said Ward 9 Alderman Barbara Shaw. "I've read it and looked at it and I was in agreement with what I saw, liked it."

Additional funding for the school district, however, comes after the union representing Manchester teachers balked at making contract concessions and instead voted to declare an impasse in negotiations.

"I'd like to see some go back to the people who actually put the money in there, and reduce the tax rate," Greazzo said. "Nobody wants to make any cuts to all the fat around Manchester, so I won't support any budgets."

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