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September 30. 2013 11:27PM

Clerk rejects spending cap change petition

NASHUA — A petition filed by a group of city residents attempting to change the way the city calculates its spending cap has been deemed insufficient.

On Sept. 13, a petition to amend the Nashua city charter was submitted to the city clerk’s office with 1,601 signatures.

The petition, spearheaded by Gary Hoffman, Karen Costura-Hoffman, Maida Latvis, Judith Loftus and Susan Giudici, seeks to change the process in which the city determines how much the annual budget can increase each year.

The spending cap is determined by the three-year average of the Consumer Price Index Urban (Northeast region), according to John Griffin, the city’s chief financial officer. The petition is asking to change the measure of inflation used in the city’s spending cap from the CPI-U to the Implicit Gross Domestic Product Price Deflator for State and Local Services as measured by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The change, according to the petitioner’s committee, will more accurately measure cost increases to municipal expenditures. On the website for the Nashua Citizens for a Smarter Spending Cap, the S&L IPD is called a more accurate measure of inflation when trying to measure the costs associated with running local government.

“It’s simply good government to make this change,” the site says.

“Upon review, 1,203 of 1,601 signatures were certified. The petition, therefore, has been determined to be insufficient,” states a letter by City Clerk Paul Bergeron to the Board of Aldermen and Mayor Donnalee Lozeau. “An additional 320 signatures were required.”

According to Bergeron, a written petition for an amendment to the city charter may be filed by, at minimum, the number of voters equal to 20 percent of the votes cast at the last regular municipal election.

Bergeron said 7,613 votes were cast during the last municipal election, meaning the minimum number of voters required to petition for a charter amendment is 1,523.

There were 398 signatures on the petition forms that were rejected for various reasons, including duplicate signatures, invalid addresses or the petitioners were not registered to vote, according to Bergeron, who issued a certificate of insufficiency on Friday.

The petitioner’s committee now has an opportunity to amend the initial petition filing and then it will be given an additional 10 days to correct the deficiencies if desired.

“In this instance, the committee will be required to submit supplementary petitions, which have been properly executed, containing the signatures and residential addresses of at least 320 Nashua voters,” Bergeron wrote in a letter to Gary Hoffman of Harbor Avenue, one of the petition organizers. “If the committee chooses not to file a notice of intention to amend the petition within the time allowed under state law, the initial filing will become null and void.”

According to Griffin, the city first implemented a spending cap — or the measure of inflation that determines the budget increase — in its fiscal year 1995 budget, although the process was approved in 1993.

“The spending cap basically limits the amount of money that can be spent above the prior year’s budget,” he explained. Griffin said the CPI is used by most municipalities when calculating spending caps.

“That is standard. The CPI is generally understood by the city,” added Griffin, who said he has not calculated what the current spending cap would be if it was tabulated using the proposed S&L IPD measure.

The existing spending cap in Nashua is 2.3 percent, which equates to $5.6 million, according to Griffin. The city’s fiscal year 2014 budget, however, is $381,670 below the spending cap.

Patricia Piecuch, deputy city clerk, said Monday afternoon that her office had not yet received feedback from the petitioner’s committee on whether it plans to file a notice of intention to amend the petition.

A certified letter was mailed to the group on Friday, according Piecuch. Members of the committee did not return phone calls and emails seeking comment.khoughton@newstote.com


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