Berlin budget avoids worker layoffs, minimizes tax increase
BERLIN — The mayor and city council adopted a budget on Monday that avoids any employee reductions and minimizes the estimated tax increase for property owners.
The city’s budget, approved at the council’s June 17 meeting, sets the general fund appropriations at $31,569,536 for fiscal year 2014. Though the tax increase impact on Berlin’s tax rate of $32.31 is still 69 cents, that is less than half the $1.44 jump predicted in late May.
The proposed FY 2014 general fund budget presented at the council’s May 29 public hearing was $31,688,533, a decrease of about $1 million from the FY 2013 budget of $32,603,398. The burden on property owners was expected to go up, even though the budget was going down, due to expected decreases in other revenue streams.
The proposed staff reductions had included two firefighters, and an employee each in the public works, solid waste and parks and recreations departments.
“I’m grateful things broke our way in the last 10 days of the budget process,” Mayor Paul Grenier said Thursday.
Among the fiscal resources identified in the last couple of weeks is a reduction in the city’s debt service, as the city has refinanced its outstanding bond so that the city will only pay interest this year. Next year’s payment will include interest and principal, but the city has a plan to address the FY 2015 increase by shifting about $150,000 now used to pay firefighters to pay some of the debt service.
The city is applying for a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant and is receiving help and support from other fire and safety professionals in the state during the application process.
“We’ll be able to keep the roster of firefighters at the amount we have now,” Grenier said. “The city’s very fortunate that David Lang, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, has made it (Berlin’s SAFER grant application) a top priority.”
With the end of the fiscal year in sight, the Berlin School Department was recently able to project a $400,000 surplus, which will also be used to keep the tax increase down, along with other funds from the city’s Undesignated Fund Balance.
On Monday, $46,000 was shifted from downtown improvements to parks and recreation, to preserve the position of the employee in that department who spends a considerable amount of time maintaining the green spaces and parks in that area.
“I’m really thrilled we’re able to keep everybody working,” Grenier said. “They’re all family people.”
He expressed sympathy for the workers whose positions had been on the cut list.
Grenier still has hopes that the cut in the state’s education grant to Berlin will be restored, but added that he won’t know until the governor signs a budget.
Grenier credited the city’s housing initiative for the school system’s ability to turn back the hefty surplus to the general fund. He said tearing down or renovating substandard buildings has stabilized the rental market and decreased the number of transient families with school-age children.
“This was a tough budget and they’re always going to be tough budgets in Berlin,” he said.