Gatsas Pulls Rabbit Out of Budget Hat

Proposes $2.8 million for school technology, security.

No layoffs in proposal that stays within the tax cap.

MANCHESTER, February 29, 2013 @ 8 PM


Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas brought forward the budgetary version of “Shock and Awe” tonight as he released a budget that not only stayed within the tax cap, but also one that managed to find $2.8 million for an complete upgrade of the technology infrastructure in every city school as well as certain security upgrades.

The Gatsas Plan would issue bonds for the upgrades.  Payments on the bonds would run for seven years and cost the school district roughly $420,000 per year.  To offset that expense, Gatsas proposed deferring the district’s annual payments on the $3 million book loan the city granted to buy text books for the duration of the bond.  That deferment leaves the district with “zero impact” on its bottom line.

The technology plan includes:  $500,000 to increase bandwith and install WiFi in all city schools;  $1.5 million to purchase 5,000 new coputers and tablets;  and $300,000 for professional and integrated curriculum development so that teachers can learn to use the computers.

The safety improvements include:  $300,000 to update the district’s telephone systems; and $200,000 to upgrade the school intercom systems.  Gatsas said the new telephone and intercom systems would be the same one installed in the new police department building.

Overall, the Gatsas Budget anticipates spending $155,724, 449 on the schools.  Of the $4.1 million increase in tax revenues allowed under the city’s spending and tax revenue cap, $3.3 million went to the schools said Gatsas.  On January 14, School Superintendent Dr. Thomas J. Brennan, Jr. proposed a “cap budget” of $155,922,592, approximately $200,000 higher than Gatsas’ proposal.  There are no layoffs in either proposal, though Brennan anticipated using $2 million in “one time funds,”$1 million from “expendable trust fund accounts” and another million from “impact fees.”  Gatsas managed to arrange the numbers to eliminate the need for the impact fee expenditure.

Spending for the rest of the city departments, such as Police, Fire, Public Works, Health and others totals just over $84.4 million; a total  increase of about $1.2 million over last year.  Of that amount, $720,000 is proposed for inclusion in the Police Department salary line item to retain officers once paid for by federal grants.  The city is obligated to keep them on the force as a condition of the grant.

The city was battered by non-departmental costs beyond department operations.  While the concessions gained in the contract extensions overperformed projections, lowering health care costs by more than $1.3 million versus last year, unanticipated state and city retirement system costs wiped them out.  Retirement payments for the police and fire department personnel jumped by more than $2 million.  City employee retirement was up by nearly $900,000.  Teacher retirement was up by over $2 million as well.

Reductions in various line items, including $700,000 from severance line items and, $560,000 from the contingency account, and the elimination of the $400,000 health insurance reserve account helped offset the retirement increases, as did a 1% cut in the spending of most departments.

The bottom line to the taxpayer is a tax increase of just under 2.2%.  Taxes raised increase by just under $4 million.  Non tax revenues remained essentially flat. Expenditures rose by $4.1 million.  The total budget, as proposed by Mayor Gatsas is just under $309.4 million.  A total of more than $161.5 million, including the School Food Nutrition budget, is slated for schools.

EDITORIAL NOTE:  Gatsas’ praise of the better than expected results from the health care adjustments made by city employee unions resulting from contract extension negotiations managed to bring into focus the reality that the school district’s unions did not make those concessions.  Had they, Gatsas’ message was pretty clear.  The $4,5 million that would have been saved would be available in the budget today.  Expect that point to be driven home as this budgt process and the ongoing negotiations with the teachers and principals unions proceed.

View the Budget Presentation

Read the 2012 Budget Address