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City in search of $385,000, but not from tax increase

May 05, 2010
BERLIN — The councilors needs to find $385,000 if the city wants to keep the two firefighters and the two public works employees the city manager wrote out of the 2011 budget.

City manager Pat MacQueen gave councilors a sheet outlining the necessary changes at a special budget meeting on Tuesday night. It showed a number of changes that have to be made to his original budget because of discrepancies city employees found or changes at the state level. Some of the changes are increases in revenue, but they would be far offset by the expense of four additional city employees.

"To make that up clearly the council will have a tough job," he said.

Mr. McQueen said by cutting other departments and decreasing the undesignated fund balance the city could do it, but any budget surpluses would have to be used to offset taxes.

The undesignated fund balance is the city's rainy day fund for emergencies. Budget surpluses have become a key issue for both the police department and the school department. Both have said they would be more able to minimize their budget increase next year if they knew they would get back any surplus this year.

"I'm not of the opinion quite yet that we should add these back in," Mayor Paul Grenier said, referring to the four city employees. The council can make the move later if need be, he said, closer to final decision time in June.

The city budget goes to public hearing in a few weeks, on May 26.

It will give people the opportunity to let the council know what departments are most important to them, he said, and what departments shouldn't be cut. "At the 11th hour we'll be able to see exactly where we stand."

The additional funds do not include any money to deal with the more than 30 properties the city recently acquired though tax deeding. City housing coordinator Andre Caron estimated demolishing the properties in the worst condition will cost between $169,000 and $243,000, depending on how many they bring down.

The council has made it clear they want to demolish as many of those buildings as they can, but they have not yet figured a way to pay for it.

Also not included in the city manager's list for additional funds were the school department and the police department. Both departments have submitted budget requests for 2011 greater than for 2010. They are the only two city departments not under the city manager's control.

The school department laid off 10 teachers in April, and the police department may have to lay off two officers to achieve the council's budget goals. Both departments have been negotiating with their respective unions and the city to try to avoid layoffs or cuts in services.

"I am adamant as a councilor that we do level-fund the police department," said Councilor Robert Danderson.

"You're going to have to reduce education funding and you're going to have to reduce police funding to come in at a zero tax increase," Mayor Grenier said.

The council has maintained its goal of a zero tax increase throughout the budget process. They are hoping to ensure property taxes don't go up. If they achieve the goal it will be the third year in a row they will have kept the taxes flat.

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