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Londonderry council sets town operating budget at $31.7m

Union Leader Correspondent

January 17. 2018 11:42PM
A $6.4 million bond vote to update the Londonderry Fire Department's central station, seen here, will appear on the town ballot in March. Voters will have an opportunity to review and amend all municipal articles during the Feb. 10 deliberative session. (COURTESY)

LONDONDERRY — The Londonderry Town Council this week finalized the 2018-2019 budget at $31.7 million and prepared 24 total warrant articles on the municipal side for the deliberative session next month.

Councilors recommended the $31,707,838 by a 4-0 margin following a public hearing on the fiscal 2019 budget on Monday night.

Town Manager Kevin Smith called the budget stable and status quo.

“I think the voters will appreciate that, and certainly we’re not on any spending sprees right now, that’s for sure,” he said.

The default budget is the same figure as the proposed, a first in Smith’s five-year tenure in Londonderry. He said it is actually below last year’s operating budget thanks in part to one-time expenses from fiscal 2018 that are not figured into the proposal and the fact that “any budget reductions or budget additions netted each other out.”

If the budget and all the financial articles pass, the projected municipal tax rate is 5.831 per $1,000 of assessed property value, or an 18.76 percent increase.

But Smith stressed caution when looking at the percentage jump, saying that figure is only accurate if all projections on evaluation and revenue are correct and each of the articles are supported by voters, which is unlikely to happen.

“Typically that isn’t what ends up happening, but we have to give what would be the worst-case scenario,” he said.

Council Vice-chairman John Farrell warned Londonderry voters about this and future budgets because the town has been able to offset tax spikes with commercial revenue since the turn of the century. With a current sluggish commercial trend, residents will have to pick up the slack.

“From this point forward, we’re going to be asking the homeowner for what we’re looking at,” he said.

Londonderry voters will have their chance to review and amend the fiscal 2019 budget during the deliberative session beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 10 at the high school gymnasium. Residents may revise any of the financial articles before they are sent to the ballot for Town Meeting Day, scheduled this year for March 13.

The most discussed item during the council’s public hearing Monday was a $6.4 million bond to improve the Londonderry Fire Department’s central station.

The proposed addition would increase the total size by roughly 21,000 square feet and construct a one-story addition on the north side of the building to house administrative offices, the dispatch center and community training room while a southerly two-story add-on will become the new living quarters.

It requires a three-fifths vote. The article raised a few eyebrows because it will not raise the tax rate in fiscal 2019 based on the projected assessed values, but the 20-year bond will impact future budgets.

Other big-ticket items include: $2.3 million to update the townwide communications system, although this will use money from the unassigned fund balance and have no tax impact in the next fiscal year; $250,000 to continue the sidewalk from Pillsbury Road to Wilshire Drive; and $100,000 for a comprehensive review of all commercial and industrial properties, which is also coming from the unassigned fund balance.

The town is also seeking $95,000 to purchase 1.3 acres on Sargent Road, land that is currently owned by the American Legion, and $35,000 to conduct a study of Londonderry’s air and water quality.

Another article is for $5.7 million to go to the sewer fund, which is also funded through user fees and requires no property tax support.

Finally, a citizen-led petition would replace the lights at Nelson Road softball fields would raised $130,000, which only would have a $0.03 impact on the tax rate. Advocates look to replace eight wooden poles with metal structures holding roughly 20 light fixtures.

A similar article failed during the 2017 town meeting.

The council recommended every article except for No. 22, which would raise and appropriate $2 million to purchase land, easements or other transactions that meet the mission of the Londonderry Conservation Commission.

In a 4-0 vote against the article, Farrell said he could not stomach the $0.51 impact on the tax rate.

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