Concord’s $66.5M budget proposal has its secrets

  • Concord City Hall

Monitor staff
Published: 5/24/2019 5:59:03 PM
Modified: 5/24/2019 5:58:49 PM

With a proposed $66.5 million operating budget like Concord’s, it’s easy to miss the little things.

But city officials say a $5,100 line item in the police department’s budget has to be kept secret.

The city began its fiscal year 2020 budget proceedings this week and will continue to do so for the next few weeks.

The city has budgeted for a $233,000 increase in the police department’s budget. But it was the $5,100 “covert communications equipment” item that caught At-Large City Councilor Fred Keach’s attention Monday.

“Can we get a little hint at what that means?” he asked, saying he assumed the material could be used for police officers to talk to each other, but that people might think “the worst” if not clarified.

“I don’t know how to answer that questioning without ‘answering it,’ ” Aspell said. He said the equipment wasn’t body cameras or a drone and didn’t describe the item further except to say he’d seen it “and we need it.”

On Thursday, Concord police Chief Bradley Osgood said the city has a non-disclosure agreement with the equipment’s vendor that prevents the city from publicizing what the equipment is.

Items like the $650,000 Storrs Street expansion design and the $1.4 million increase in Concord’s $66.5 million operating budget were sure to stand out after the budget dropped two weeks ago. And when the total package is over 600 pages long, it would be easy to miss the small things.

But this week’s discussion shows how every dollar can count when it comes to budget discussions.

For instance, Ward 6 Councilor Linda Kenison was curious on Monday about how many additional miles of road the ¼ additional neighborhood street paving at a cost of $105,000 would buy.

The answer is “One small road,” Aspell said, noting the costs associated with paving roads has increased.

Councilors also spent about half-hour on Thursday discussing whether to restore $5,000 worth of funding to the New American Africans, a nonprofit that provides educational and cultural programming for the city’s immigrant community.

Aspell said the money was not included in this year’s budget because the council had agreed to provide $5,000 for three years to the organization in 2017.

Victoria Adewumi, board chairwoman for New American Africans, said the money goes a long way. She said their operating costs are around $100,000, but that figure has been impacted as other grant sources have fallen through.

“We feel like we’ve done our best to max out the investment,” she said. “In three years we’ve been able to expand a lot of our youth programming.”

That programming can include literacy coaching and college visits for students, but also dances and fundraising events, Adewumi said.

Mayor Jim Bouley asked that a copy of the New American Africans’ budget be provided to the city to see if they could find a “bigger solution” to the group’s funding problem.

Cable TV franchise revenue makes up about 1.2% of the city’s roughly $66 million revenue streams, but a $68,000 decline from this year’s budgeted revenues to next year’s projected revenues could have big implications for nonprofit ConcordTV.

The group broadcasts and keeps streams of the city’s council, zoning and planning meetings and several school board meetings in addition to providing community programming and training.

The revenue is directly related to how many cable packages residents are buying from Comcast. The city receives a portion of that money and keeps about 66.5% of it. The rest goes to ConcordTV.

That revenue has declined almost $80,000 since 2017, city budget documents show.

ConcordTV executive director Doris Ballard said the station will have to cut services and staff if the trend continues. She asked the council to consider adding 3% of their franchise fee revenues to the station’s budget, which would be roughly $23,000. She estimated if the city were to attempt to provide its own recording services, that would cost around ¾ of a million dollars.

Schedule going forward

There are just a few meetings before the city council is expected to vote on the budget. They all kick off at 5:30 p.m. in the city council chambers.

May 30 will touch on community development, leisure services like the library and parks and recreation, human services and the capital improvement program.

June 3 will include presentations on special revenue funds, like the airport, arena and golf course, along with enterprise funds.

The council will look to pass the budget on June 6, but two additional meetings are tentatively planned for mid-June if that doesn’t happen.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)

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