Budget Brawls, Predictable Outcome. Published 11:59 PM on June 4, 2012. CORRECTED 6/5 AT 9 AM
The special budget meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen was intense, but predictable. Passions boiled over several times as Ward 1 Alderman Joyce Craig verbally jousted with Mayor Ted Gatsas following his veto of her proposed budget, Ward 9 Alderman Barbara Shaw pointedly took aim at the teachers’ union for their failure to ratify the contract extension with the city and Alderman at Large Joe Kelly Levasseur and Ward 2 Alderman Ron Ludwig shouted each other down in an exchange that was so hostile that Gatsas recessed the meeting and cleared the Aldermanic Chambers to restore order. Ward 5 Alderman Ed Osborne didn’t come back.
Including the passionate pleas and in spite of the testy exchanges, the meeting was generally unsurprising.
Craig’s budget was the first up on the table. As predicted, Craig scrounged around the “city side” of the budget to find approximately $1.8 million for the schools. As expected, she advocated for the reassignment of the Derryfield Country Club engineering study to fix drainage problems at the beleaguered golf course and the mandatory purchase of the city’s remaining recycling toters be made from the city’s “one time account,” which was established for economic development purposes by city ordinance, to free up this budget year’s expected surplus for school spending. To that $685,000 in one time funds, she added an additional $415,000 in additional surplus funds that have been identified in recent weeks and advocated for the deferment of a loan payment the school district owes the city to allocate another $428,000 to the schools.
For the remaining $600,000 Craig allocated, she made some questionable assumptions which included reducing health insurance expenditures by $200,000 and severance pay for retirees by another $200,000. While one might let the health insurance decrease slide, Craig was questioned about reducing severance pay for retirees at a time when the city is actively encouraging senior employees with cash incentives to retire. Craig replied that she’d augmented the city’s contingency fund to help with that issue. However, in paperwork she distributed to the aldermen, her contingency budget increase was based on funding a domestic violence prosecutor and to “cover unknowns associated with Central Fleet Management.” Both items were marked “as needed.”
Craig made a series of motions to facilitate the passage of her budget. Each vote passed with an 8 to 6 majority comprised of herself, Ludwig, Ward 3 Alderman Patrick Long, Ward 6 Alderman Garth Corriveau, Alderman at Large Dan O’Neil, Ward 8 Alderman Tom Katsiantonis, Shaw and Ward 12 Alderman Patrick Arnold. Ward 4 Alderman Jim Roy, Osborne, Levasseur, Ward 7 Alderman Bill Shea, Ward 10 Alderman Phil Greazzo and Ward 11 Alderman Russ Ouellette were opposed.
Craig made 3 budget related motions, all of which passed on 8 -6 votes, all of which were vetoed by Gatsas, all of which failed in the override vote by the same margin. Ten votes are required to override a veto. Craig interrupted his first veto message, sparking a testy exchange where Craig accused the mayor of “debating from the chair,” which is disallowed in the board’s rules and called for him to step down from the podium. Gatsas countered that he let her speak without interruption and out of respect, she should allow him the same courtesy. He asserted he was not debating the question, but explaining his veto. He continued his message, then called for the override vote.
There were few surprises in the budget presented by Ward 4’s Roy, which was mostly technical corrections to the mayor’s budget. It did not contain additional funding for schools. Instead of using city surplus funds for the Derryfield engineering study and recycling toters, Roy proposed putting those funds, along with the expected additional surplus dollars and other items into the city’s contingency fund. The motion to accept his budget failed on a vote 10 to 3, with Levasseur and Greazzo joining Craig, Ludwig, Long, Corriveau, O’Neil, Katsiantonis, Shaw and Arnold in oppostion. Roy, Shea and Ouellette voted in favor. Osborne was absent.
Prior to the vote on Roy’s budget, Gatsas urged the board to consider that failure to pass Roy’s budget would lead to the budget remaining an open question until the fiscal year closes on June 30, 2012. Because Craig’s budget had been passed and vetoed, the failure to pass Roy’s alternative would leave the Mayor’s original proposal as the only budget on the table as the default budget that must be adopted in the absence of an alternative. Gatsas said it would not be fair to make the schools wait until the end of the month to know what their budget was going to be. The aldermen did not heed his warning.
Greazzo questioned what would happen if the default budget went into effect and was told that the surplus funds would be split between the city’s Rainy Day Fund and tax relief. Funds to take care of various items that came to be after the mayor’s budget proposal, such as returning savings from union concessions on health insurance benefits to the departments to rehire laid off employees, could come from other off budget accounts the city has. Levasseur said after the meeting that he voted against Roy’s budget because it didn’t put any money into the Rainy Day Fund or give any of it back to the taxpayer and that the mayor’s default budget would be the best option.
Gatsas told Girard at Large after the meeting that he’d spoken with Board Chairman Dan O’Neil and was planning on meeting with him tomorrow to see if they could come together on a proposal that would satisfy each of their concerns and muster the votes needed to pass. A proposal could come as early as tomorrow night’s regularly scheduled meeting of the board.
Things got heated when shortly before the vote on Roy’s budget, Ludwig spoke for the first time of the evening. While making his point, Levasseur loudly called for a “point of order,” interrupting Ludwig who didn’t take it kindly. Noting that he’d sat their all night and listened without interrupting, Ludwig too exception to Levasseur’s interruption and a shouting match that caused Gatsas to stop the meeting ensued. Levasseur apologized when the board reconvened. Ludwig chalked it up to “the heat of battle” and said it was gone by.
Here’s an alderman by alderman synopsis of their expressed positions”
Joyce Craig: I wish they (teachers’ union) would’ve made concessions, but we have to deal with the facts, not what we wish. We can only work with the facts before us. Schools are in trouble and need our help. It’s in our best interest as a city to do even a little bit to help however we can.
Ron Ludwig: Inquired about the impact on a $200,000 house of the mayor’s budget and was told it was about $64 per year and that Alderman Craig’s tax impact was $65. “We’re arguing over a dollar” he said.
Patrick Long: Supported Craig’s budget.
Jim Roy: Opposed to using “one time money,” as was done in Craig’s budget, to add to the school’s operating budget because it just makes the hole deeper for next year.
Ed Osborne: “We’re going to give them $2 million, but we don’t know for sure where it’s really going. Only saves about 25% of the teachers. I feel bad for the other 75% and want to avoid a “pick and choose” situation where some get called back and some don’t; it’s a hard decision, especially when you really don’t know where it’s (the money) going in the first place. One time money not good, either. Also, there’s no concessions here. They (the teachers) didn’t put anything back into till. Everybody else had to give up something and they didn’t.”
Garth Corriveau: Decried a “tired political narrative” that just must stop. Complained that he ran for office to make Manchester a better place, but Craig’s budget, which he unhappily supported because he’s a “realist” and recognized the votes to override the tax cap dont’ exist, will only make the city “a little less worse.”
Bill Shea: Said it’s not right that the city try to increase funding for the schools when the other city employees came to the table to help the city and the teachers did not. Says if everybody sticks to their guns, the mayor’s budget will become the default budget and that’s the worst case scenario. Urges that the board not let the mayor’s default budget go into effect.
Tom Katsiantonis: Doesn’t like Craig’s budget either, but supported it “for the children.” People move into his ward because of the schools and he’s received numerous messages and visits to his restaurant from concerned parents. Wants more money for the schools.
Barbara Shaw: She was strident in her criticism of the union. Said she didn’t understand how they could “sacrifice their own” by voting against the contract extension and charged that they were not only not thinking of their vulnerable colleagues, but also “not thinking about the best interest of the children or education.” Was heavily critical of the union’s leadership for failing to advocate on behalf of the extension. Supported Craig’s budget because it was her “duty to protect the children in my ward and this city.” Said the teachers “will have to deal with the public for their vote” against the contract extension savings.
Phil Greazzo: Said very little, but is in favor of the mayor’s default budget becoming law, splitting the surplus between the Rainy Day Fund and tax relief and dealing with the items needing technical correction from the Rainy Day Fund or “one time account.” Said the taxpayers get a better deal that way.
Russ Ouellette: Said he’d have been the first to override the tax cap had the teachers done what all other city employees had done and made concessions. But they didn’t and as a result “have no skin in the game.” Does not think it was fair or right to give the schools more money when their employees didn’t do what they could’ve done to help. When O’Neil went on his “it’s not the teacher’s fault rif,” Ouellette countered that “it’s not the taxpayer’s fault either.”
Patrick Arnold: Said almost nothing, but voted in favor of Craig’s motions and against Roy’s.
Dan O’Neil: Offered a litany of complaints against the school board for its failures and missteps. Defended the teachers and principals, asserting that it’s not their fault. Said he would support Craig’s budget because it gave more money to school and we have to think of our “young people.” Opposed Roy’s budget because it did not give one extra cent to the schools.
Joe Kelly Levasseur: Pulled a brilliant move by calling Dr. Thomas Brennan, Superintendent of Schools, before the board when he wasn’t there. Led to an intense exchange between him and Craig, who defended Brennan. Levasseur asserted the emergency mustn’t be so grave if he needs permission to appear before the appropriators and that the school board vote to prevent his appearance was a slap in the face to the board and the citizens. Called their request for more money a “bail out,” which got Shaw’s hackles up. Also wondered why the school board and administration were looking to the aldermen for more money when they weren’t willing to use their own reserve funds.
Ted Gatsas: Held his own against the onslaught from those wanting to increase school spending. Argued that the use of one time funds has to come to an end and doesn’t want to use them today so that people have to be sent home tomorrow. Wondered, as did Bill Shea, what kind of message the city would be sending to the employees who made concessions to save their jobs if they gave more money to the schools whose unions didn’t make the same concessions. Reminded people of the the firemen laid off last year when they failed to make concessions.