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Concord City Council approves budget with 4.2 percent tax rate increase



Last modified: Friday, June 26, 2015
The Concord City Council has unanimously approved a new budget, which comes with an estimated 4.2 percent increase in the city’s portion of the tax rate next year.

The budget, which takes effect Wednesday, includes $58.1 million in general fund spending. Including special funds and capital projects, total spending will be about $101 million next year.

About three-quarters of the estimated tax rate increase will pay for rising health insurance and retirement costs. Despite that, Mayor Jim Bouley called it “a very responsible budget.”

“I am extremely proud of many parts of this budget,” Bouley said.

He pointed in particular to an accelerated paving plan for neighborhood streets. The budget also includes a roundabout at the intersection of Mountain Road and Shawmut Street and a replacement for the Rolfe Park pool. And earlier this week, the council added about $140,000 next year for staff to ramp up maintenance on the new North Main Street, as well as $202,000 in new bonds for their equipment.

The budget does not, however, include a 25 percent price increase for purple trash bags proposed in the initial draft from City Manager Tom Aspell. The council has also put a hold on a potential $600,000 project to convert the city’s buildings from steam heat to natural gas. The money is still in the budget to do so, but city officials will wait six months to make a final decision about a switch from beleaguered Concord Steam.

But the final public hearing and vote on the budget Thursday evening didn’t focus on big-ticket items. Instead, the discussion zeroed in on $10,000 previously allocated to the city’s two winter shelters. The shelters closed after last winter, and no one has agreed to take up that effort for the upcoming season.

So that $10,000 was waiting in a contingency fund, which the council can spend however it chooses. And two different groups – the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness and the New American Africans – approached the city to ask for it.

Executive Director Ellen Groh said the Coalition to End Homelessness would spend the money to add hours at the Homeless Resource Center, which would help people find a place to stay without a cold weather shelter this upcoming winter.

“We do have concerns about going without a cold weather shelter. . . . Since it does not seem likely, we feel like we have to ramp up all the other components to keep people safe this winter,” Groh said. “So we respectfully ask for those $10,000 so we can increase our caseworker support.”

And Honore Murenzi, executive director of the New American Africans, talked about the English-language classes and other support his group offers refugees from many countries. The money would help pay for transportation, home visits and other programs, he said.

“Our English class is very important for our refugees to assimilate,” Murenzi said.

Becky Field, a photographer and New American Africans board member, also advocated for the nonprofit.

“Newly arrived families are often dazed, if not traumatized. . . . New American Africans is central to making Concord a welcoming community for all people,” Field said.

In the end, the councilors gave the $10,000 previously allocated for the shelters to the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness. That council contingency fund has a remaining balance of $10,000.

Ward 10 Councilor Dan St. Hilaire said $10,000 is “a drop in the bucket” compared with the overall budget. Even though no one has stepped forward to host a winter shelter, he said, the council should still dedicate that money toward caring for the homeless.

“That doesn’t mean we can just walk away from the table and shirk our responsibilities as members of the community and members of this body,” he said.

But councilors also gave $5,000 from the city’s general contingency fund to the New American Africans. That fund has a remaining balance of $95,000. In the past, that contingency fund been used to pay for over-expenditures on snow removal or fuel.

“Murenzi has for 13 years been creating a bridge for the new Americans and refugees that are settling in Concord,” Ward 9 Councilor Candace Bouchard said. “I think we can see the good work he has done.”

Bouley praised the group for that end compromise.

“Anyone in this community who doesn’t think the city council listens – this notion that somehow we make up our minds before we come in here – if you witnessed tonight, you saw exactly what we do,” Bouley said. “We heard from people who came in here tonight, and we made adjustments to the budget after we heard a need to do so.”

To read the entire budget, visit concordnh.gov.



(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321, mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter 
@megan_e_doyle.)