Editorial: City council should approve spending plan
Concord taxpayers will see a 2.99 percent increase in the property tax rate in fiscal 2015 if the city council accepts the budget proposed by City Manager Tom Aspell.
Small as the increase is, it’s probably bigger than the annual pay raises many workers received. Flat wages in most job categories continue to be the rule, but the budget increase is necessary to recover a bit of ground lost during the recession and keep the city moving forward.
The council should approve the proposed budget.
The vote won’t come for a few weeks. Taxpayers have time to study Aspell’s budget, and the many financial requests from department heads that he declined to approve, and share their opinions and ideas with their councilor.
The city, to its credit, has made that easy. Aspell’s proposed budget can be found on the city’s website, concordnh.org, along with background information that helps put the budget in context.
At 29.3 percent, Concord has a bigger percentage of tax-exempt property, value-wise, than any other New Hampshire city. As a result, the per capita property wealth that can be taxed to raise money to provide services is less than the state average. So is the per capita income of the city’s residents.
Despite that, in what should be considered a tribute to sound fiscal management, the city’s bond ratings are far above average. Credit for that goes to a policy of not using the equivalent of city reserve funds to routinely patch holes in the budget.
The municipal portion of the city’s tax rate, at $8.94 per thousand dollars of property value, is lower than all but a few of the state’s cities, and, all things considered, the Concord-area economy is strong.
The rating company Policom Corp. gave Concord a top rating of one from 2004 to 2007 before rankings fell to a low of eight in 2010. By 2012, the Concord micropolitan area was getting ones again.
Since 2009, the city has shed the equivalent of 33 full-time employees, and Aspell’s budget doesn’t foresee adding city workers next year. Continued downshifting of state responsibilities to cities and towns fueled the need to downsize. The state’s decision to stop contributing to public employee retirement costs alone added 2 percent to the city budget.
The police department wanted to add one position and the fire department two – and possibly many more if its request to restore Engine One to service at an annual cost of nearly $900,000 was approved. Aspell rightly denied the requests of both departments, whose combined expenses account for nearly two-thirds of city spending.
Aspell also failed to include money in his proposed budget to begin a five-year, city-wide inspection and revaluation of property. That was last done in 1990 and will have to be done again to guarantee that taxes are levied as equitably as possible.
This is something city councilors should think about.
Take a look at Aspell’s proposed budget and the requests from city departments (concordnh.gov/DocumentCenter/View/4036), and give your council member your two cents worth. It’s your money they’ll be spending.