It’s all his fault! That’s basically what Ward One Alderman and mayoral candidate Joyce Craig said about Mayor Ted Gatsas in a statement issued by her yesterday over Moody’s recent announcement that it had lowered Manchester’s bond rating a notch as it prepares to issue over thirty three million dollars in bonds to support various infrastructure projects.
Quote: “Unfortunately, under the leadership of Mayor Gatsas, Moody’s and S&P have on several occasions downgraded our bond rating. This troubling trend reflects the inability of our current Mayor to effectively manage the City’s finances. We must change course and make Manchester a city that attracts families and businesses by improving our schools, fixing our roads, and keeping our neighborhoods safe.”
No it’s not! That’s basically what city Finance Officer Bill Sanders had to say when questioned about the bond rating by Ward Seven Alderman Bill Shea and whether or not it was a result of the tax cap at last night’s special meeting of the board to discuss the budget proposed by Gatsas. In his answer, Sanders said the concern wasn’t that the city had a tax cap, it was that it hadn’t yet really learned how to live within it. He explained the rating agencies were concerned that rather than adjusting to the cap, the city was spending its surpluses and tapping its reserves, things that would be bad with or without a tax cap. Given that Craig was the architect of the past four budgets that had passed the city, budgets that had, over the mayor’s objections, tapped city reserves and otherwise spent surpluses, she was strangely silent during the discussion.
Sanders also said he assured the rating agency that the city was learning how to live within the cap and pointed to the mayor’s budget proposal that actually followed city ordinances to split the projected surplus between tax rate relief and suring up the city’s eight and one half million dollar Rainy Day Fund and retain surpluses in the health insurance and workers compensation line items in the trusts that are supposed to receive those surplus finds. As aldermen searched for more cash to spend last night, both Gatsas and Sanders reminded them that the city’s reserve status was a primary cause of the bond rating’s downgrade and emphasized the importance of bring them to acceptable levels.
Alderman at-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur gave a pretty good defense of the tax cap, articulating its virtues and saying if Moody’s or any other bond rating agency needs convincing it’s a good thing, they should put him on the phone. Sanders said the city should hear from S & P about their review of the city’s bonds by Friday.
News from our own backyard continues after this.
Last night’s budget meeting of the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen was actually something of a ho hummer, but there were some interesting clues dropped about what was coming. The only department that said it couldn’t live within the mayor’s proposed budget was the school district. We’ll get to that in a moment.
A golden thread in most departmental testimony was that they could live with in the mayor’s budget, but many of them also said that if they had to fund step, longevity and COLA raises, they would be unable to do so without extra funds. Based on a letter sent by Alderman at Large and Board Chairman, that’s the Lord Emperor, Dan O’Neil, it would seem that the board’s interested in granting contracts that restore all step and longevity raises and grant a one percent cost of living raise.
Finance Officer Bill Sanders said those costs could be off set by things like concessions in health insurance, but that if those concessions didn’t cover the one point three million dollar cost, there wasn’t much room in the proposed budget to absorb any excesses.
The topic of a tax cap override was broached, first by Alderman at-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur and then Ward Six Alderman Garth Corriveau over increasing school funding. At issue was this recurring theme that there was a six hundred thousand dollar gap between the mayor’s number, which includes the district retaining one million dollars in surpluses, and their new bare bones minimum, which is higher than the tax cap budget proposed by Superintendent Debra Livingston. “Lead the way!” was Ward Ten Alderman Bill Barry’s response to Levasseur’s suggestion the board override the tax cap to fund the school short fall. “Can’t do that. It’s an election year,” replied Levasseur. Corriveau questioned what the board would get for its money if it overrode the cap to increase funding for schools. The answer was probably more staff.
Livingston was on the hot seat for the majority of the hearing as the aldermen questioned priorities, such as a Director of Adult Education for one hundred twenty thousand dollars. Ward Seven Alderman Bill Shea, a retired principal, questioned why smaller elementary schools were so top heavy with administrators. “If I were superintendent,” he said, “those positions would be gone tomorrow and I would hire teachers with the funds.”
Livingston spent a big chunk of time defending the decision to not fund a girls hockey team at Central, which would be available to girls at Memorial and West for a paltry twelve thousand five hundred dollars. The community supported that team on the promise it would be funded this year, said Shea and O’Neil, who said it was matter of being credible with the community. Thanks to a question from Shea and some quick work from the mayor’s staff, it was discovered that there was a trust fund for athletics that, da da da dah dah daaa, has twelve thousand dollars. Problem solved, we think.
There was also a lot of discussion about reducing class sizes. That led Levasseur to hammer Livingston and the school board for their failure to redistrict the schools and had Shea questioning team teaching in the middle schools and inquiring whether or not it helped our hurt efforts to reduce class size. They’re both on the right track, though Levasseur became abusive in his condemnation.
There was ooohh sooo much more and it’s all in our Live Blog Forum of the meeting, which we have of course linked to from this news read at Girard at Large dot com.
That’s news from our own backyard, Girard at Large hour ___ is next!