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Spending cap petition moves forward in Nashua

Union Leader Correspondent

October 18. 2013 9:19PM

NASHUA — Determined to change the way the city calculates its spending cap, a group of city residents have gathered enough signatures on a citizen’s petition to have their request placed on a future ballot.

Although the petition was initially deemed insufficient by the city clerk last month, an additional 635 signatures were recently submitted to make the petition valid, according to organizer Gary Hoffman.

“The petition was accepted, so now comes the busy part trying to get our message out,” said Hoffman, a graduate student in economics at the University of Massachusetts.

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

Currently, the measure of inflation used to establish the spending cap is determined by the average of the northeast region Consumer Price Index (CPI) Urban over the past three years, according to John Griffin, the city’s chief financial officer. The petition is asking to change the measure of inflation to the Implicit Gross Domestic Product Price Deflator for State and Local Services (S&L IPD) as measured by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The latter is a more accurate measure of inflation when trying to measure the costs associated with running local government, according to the Citizens for a Smarter Spending Cap website.

“It is irresponsible to use the CPI to measure the cost of city government,” Hoffman said this week. “It is the oldest measure of inflation that exists, and it is designed for consumers.”

The petition was first submitted Sept. 13 with 1,601 signatures, but only 1,203 of the signatures were certified. With 1,523 valid signatures required to place the request on the ballot, the committee recently submitted 635 more. Hoffman said the final certified total was 1,655.

The petition will now be presented to the Board of Aldermen for review. Aldermen are expected to schedule a public hearing, and the matter will then be placed on an upcoming election ballot. Hoffman stressed it is too late to have the question placed on the November ballot.

“There are a number of things that we can do,” he said, noting the request could be placed on the September primary ballot in 2014, the general election ballot in November 2014 or possibly a special election could be held sooner.

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,” Griffin said earlier. Typically, he said the CPI is used by most municipalities when calculating spending caps.

The current 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.

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