The long budget season that Mayor Paul Grenier called one of the most challenging ever is almost over.
The mayor and council are scheduled to finalize the city's fiscal year 2014 budget at the council's regular meeting at Berlin City Hall tonight. The budget is $31,688,533, a decrease of about $1 million from the year before. Berlin's tax rate is $32.31 per $1,000 valuation. If the budget passes as written, the tax rate will go up $1.44. Despite the lower spending numbers, there are projected declines in state and federal aid.
The vote will follow the council's 6:30 p.m. work session, which includes a budget discussion, and also follows a 7:30 p.m. public hearing for the budget, school grants and an application for a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant for firefighters.
The city has a full-time fire department, a rarity in sparsely populated Coos County, but the city is the most densely settled municipality in northern New Hampshire.
The council has proposed a $2,059,699 fire department budget, which would cut two firefighter positions. In the department's budget request, which did not include the staff reductions, retirement costs were projected to increase $97,696 over fiscal year 2013.
The Berlin Fire Department received a lot of support at the budget's public hearing on May 29, with firefighters from across the state warning against cutting department positions. The department's fiscal year 2013 budget is $2,068,819.
There's still hope that the mayor and council will restore the fire department positions before approving the final budget. Last year, several positions cut in the city manager's proposed budget were restored after the financial data for the fiscal year, which ends in June, allowed for more flexibility.
The same could happen tonight, as councilors will have a better idea of the operating surplus and monies from the undesignated fund balance. The proposed budget is on the city's website at berlinnh.gov.