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January 20. 2014 10:55PM

Leaders eye new sources of money

MANCHESTER — The Board of Mayor and Aldermen is holding its first regular meeting of the year this evening, and budgetary matters are expected to be a primary focus.

The aldermen will review a slate of proposals from department heads to generate more revenue for the city. The ideas range from the creative — selling ad space on city vehicles and a line of official city-branded souvenirs — to the predictable, such as raising building permit fees.

The proposals came at the request of Mayor Ted Gatsas, who is putting together his budget for the next fiscal year. The process is expected to be difficult, with the city facing larger retirement and pension costs and a restrictive tax cap.

At the same time, the board will consider a request from Police Chief David Mara to hire more police officers to deal with rising crime in the city. Mara hasn't provided a specific number, but he has noted that cities of comparable size to Manchester and with similar public safety challenges have staff complements that exceed the city's by several dozen.

Gatsas said he hasn't had a chance to review all the departmental proposals for new revenue, but he was pleased with the response. "I think they've opened up opportunities there," he said. "I applaud them for coming forward."

While several of the ideas are novel and could generate substantial revenue, many of them will take time and money to implement.

From the city's perspective, the most potentially lucrative proposal comes from Public Works Director Kevin Sheppard, who proposes a "pay as you throw" solid waste disposal fee. Residents would be charged per-bag fee for the garbage they leave on the curb. Sheppard estimates the program could bring in revenue of $3.5 million.

Tax Collector Pat Harte makes several suggestions, including expanding advertising in the mailings the city sends to residents for auto registrations and renewals. She also suggests the city sell a "city of Manchester line of gifts/souvenirs/mementos," in much the same way New York City has its own branded line of products.

More controversially, Harte notes that the city could reinstate the "resident tax," which she estimates could bring in up to $735,000 in annual revenue.

The city's relatively new Fleet Management Department is already bringing in additional revenue by using its large truck wash to service the vehicles of other city agencies. Director Wes Anderson suggests, among other things, selling advertising space on the sides of vehicles and leasing roof space at the municipal complex and other city buildings for solar panels.

The city's Planning Department proposes increases in building, occupancy and application fees that could bring in up to $220,000 in additional revenue. The hikes might be a hard sell because the department just raised some of its fees last year.

The revenue proposals are just one part of the aldermen's busy agenda tonight.

Also up for votes is a final version of the vicious dog ordinance and a request from the welfare commissioner for $100,000 in contingency funds to cover a shortfall at the department. tsiefer@unionleader.com


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