Mayor: $355.8M budget will help Manchester recover; state blamed for pension spending

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Paul Feely, The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester
·4 min read
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Mar. 31—Mayor Joyce Craig presented her budget proposal for fiscal year 2022 Tuesday night, a spending proposal she said includes funds to allow Manchester to recover from the impacts of COVID-19 and "helps set us up to thrive post-pandemic."

The mayor's proposed FY 2022 budget comes in at $355.8 million. It includes $165 million in spending on the city side and $173 million for the school district.

Craig delivered her budget address remotely, in front of a backdrop showing the Queen City skyline.

"Manchester is a community with boundless potential," said Craig. "In the last year, we've endured challenges some of us never thought possible. But when problems arose, our city got to work. With this budget, we are beginning to rebuild. There's more work to do, and I know by working together, we can recover from COVID-19 and continue to build a solid foundation for our city."

Craig's budget operates within the 1.87% tax increase outlined in the voter-approved tax cap; that offers about $4.2 million in additional property tax revenue over the previous fiscal year, approximately $2.2 million of which is allocated to the city and $2 million to the Manchester School District.

In her address, Craig said "as a result of sound fiscal management" and hard work by department heads, the city currently has a $1.843 million surplus — but is legally obligated to cover an increase in pension costs totaling more than $4 million.

"To put this into perspective, in FY21 we allocated an increase of $515,000 for state pension costs and this year, we're allocating more than 4 times that amount," said Craig. "And for city pensions, we allocated an increase of $223,367 in FY21 and this year we're allocating more than 8 times that amount."

Craig said when the state brought local communities into its pension system, it promised to pay 35% of pension costs.

"That promise was broken," said Craig. "I, along with every mayor in New Hampshire, have urged the state to stop downshifting their costs onto the backs of local taxpayers."

Craig said if the state were to pay their promised 35% of state retirement costs, Manchester would save approximately $5 million in FY22 alone.

The school district submitted a tax-cap compliant budget request of $173.1 million, which is included in Craig's budget.

"While I gave the district the most funds allowed under the tax cap, it still reflects a decrease in their overall operating budget because state revenues have decreased by $11.9 million," said Craig.

The mayor's budget proposal covers current programming and staff and funds collective bargaining agreements. In addition, through the use of grants, it expands use of a new reading program that supports a newly-adopted curriculum and helps meet the district's goal of all students reading at grade level by the third grade.

It funds professional development and costs associated with making school buildings safe for students and educators to return to full-time, in-person learning, improved ventilation and PPE. The school district's budget also outlines potential uses of one-time grant funding — including approximately $26 million in ESSER funds — on technology advancements, curriculum adoption, literacy and math interventions, and adding additional outdoor areas for students at city schools.

Craig's budget includes a $2.2 million increase on the city side, which covers steps and longevity for city employees and covers existing collective bargaining agreements.

Craig said her budget leverages a COPS grant and adds 10 new police officers to the ranks of the Manchester Police Department, resulting in the largest complement the city's ever had.

The budget also bonds $4.5 million to address 13.8 miles of roads, along with 30 miles of crack sealing citywide, resulting in 43.8 miles of streets scheduled to receive some type of surface treatment.

"I've also worked with (Public Works) Director (Kevin) Sheppard to identify $69,000 from his FY21 budget to reinstate the weekly yard waste pick-up schedule through the end of June," said Craig.

The mayor cautioned that due to an increase in costs associated with the Pinard Waste Systems contract, city aldermen will need to identify and add $161,000 to the FY22 budget to continue weekly pick-up.

Craig reminded residents she delivered last year's proposed budget remotely from her home, as the city and state were just beginning to experience the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We've lost loved ones and we've been separated from family and friends," said Craig. "Business owners have felt the seemingly endless anxiety of what the future may hold. And parents, students and educators have had to adapt to a new way of learning. But despite all of this, our community stepped up. From residents raising money for front line workers, to nonprofits working to ensure students had access to food, to friends organizing neighborhood clean-ups, our city was there for each other."

pfeely@unionleader.com