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Concord City Council approves budget for next year, estimated 2.99 percent increase to municipal tax rate

The city’s portion of the property tax rate will jump an estimated 2.99 percent under the new budget approved last night.

The Concord City Council voted 15-0 to approve the fiscal year 2015 budget last night. The budget that will take effect July 1 includes $54.99 million in general fund spending – a 1.6 percent increase over the amount budgeted last year. Total spending, including special funds, will amount to more than $88 million.

After the vote, Mayor Jim Bouley said this budget was possible “through responsible policymaking on the part of the city council and professional management on the part of a dedicated city staff.”

“In working together and listening to the citizens of our community, we achieve success,” Bouley said.

The council made few changes to the budget first proposed by City Manager Tom Aspell. The largest change was in this year’s capital spending, which will total $13.3 million. About $200,000 earmarked in the capital budget this year for a new concession stand at Memorial Field was removed, while $60,000 was added for work to the boat ramp area at Kiwanis Park.

Aspell said the recreation and parks advisory committee will rethink improvements to Memorial Field before building the concession stand.

The council “asked me to look at other options down there,” Aspell said.

Two other minor changes also did not impact general fund spending. About $13,000 will be spent this year to make repairs to the Stickney Tomb at Old North Cemetery, and about $3,000 will be used to plant new trees at the Pine Grove Cemetery. Money for both of those projects will come from trust funds, not from money raised by taxes.

Most discussion circled around $20,000 in the city budget for Intown Concord. Sean Skabo, board president for Intown Concord, came before the council to explain a 15 percent increase in this year’s fees for vendors at Market Days. He told the council the money is necessary to keep Intown Concord alive, but the organization would die by the end of this year without this annual donation from the city.

“We are on the path of going out in the next couple of years because we don’t always get the support of the downtown merchants, so basically to offset some of that we had to raise some of our fees . . . for Market Days,” he said.

Intown Concord has about 35 members, and Skabo estimated only about 40 percent of downtown merchants pay annual dues to be members of Intown Concord. But Michael Cohen, owner of Pitchfork Records, told the council he would become a member of Intown Concord if the organization was more transparent. He has asked the nonprofit for information on its profits and losses in the past, he said, but has not received it.

“What I would hope for is once you remove this cloak of secrecy, you’ll see a number of other merchants joining this organization,” Cohen said.

Skabo said he is trying to do more marketing for Intown Concord, including making more of its financial information available.

“What’s been heard tonight is that their membership would increase if there’s more transparency with their financials. . . . If they don’t do it, again, they’re going to fold,” at-large Councilor Mark Coen said. “It’s not up to us to run their organization.”

The budget approved last night does not add any new jobs or cut any current employees. The city’s water rate will increase 2.44 percent next year; the sewer rate, 2.69 percent.

The final tax rate, which includes city, school and county taxes, will be set this fall.

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

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