Aldermen in Manchester approved a budget last night. There were few changes to the budget proposed by Mayor Ted Gatsas, who noted in offering his support that proposal put forward by Ward One Alderman and mayoral rival Joyce Craig was ninety nine percent his. Calls to increase school funding went ignored as the additional half a million dollars in surplus projected since Gatsas proposed his budget in March, was split, per city ordinance, between the rainy day fund and the general fund. Craig did use that quarter of a million dollars, plus reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a one dollar per auto registration increase from the state, to add various projects to the budget, including the reconstruction of a retaining wall on Brown Ave., funding half the match for the completion of the Rails to Trails line through the downtown and the replacement of rusting traffic signal arms at the corner of Elm and Pleasant streets.
It was pretty mundane stuff, except for the hundred twenty thousand dollars she added to the contingency account to help fund a drug court in Hillsborough County. The proposal angered Gatsas who has been strenuously lobbying the County Delegation to fund the four hundred forty four thousand dollar project. As we have reported and discussed here on Girard at Large, Ward Three State Rep. Patrick Long requested the delegation’s Executive Committee fund the project, but was declined. Since then, Long and Gatsas, among others, have been meeting with legislators to curry favor for the proposal, which, according to Long, has saved the counties that have implemented drug courts money in their Department of Corrections health budget.
Gatsas got wind of the proposal late yesterday afternoon, causing him to inquire of the Superior Court systems’ Chief Justice about the proposal. He was told, and Long confirmed, that it would be unconstitutional for the city to fund the effort. Craig countered that the city wouldn’t be running the court, simply helping to fund it. She said a county commissioner she didn’t name suggested it would be a way to incentivize some “no” votes in the delegation to change their mind.
That made no sense to Gatsas, who pointed out the board had just unanimously voted to send a letter to the delegation in support of their creating and funding a drug court to provide an supervised treatment and recovery alternative to sending addicts to jail. He said the discussion had poisoned the well and may doom efforts to persuade the county to act. Even Long, who worked with Craig to propose the budget revisions, disagreed the move would encourage legislators to vote for the court and its funding.
The motion to designate the funds for a drug court, which was made by Alderman at-Large Dan O’Neil and seconded by Ward Sixes Garth Corriveau failed with only them, Craig and Ward Nine’s Barbara Shaw in favor.
The only other flash point during the meeting came as Ward Twelve Alderman Keith Hirschmann attempted to designate that same money for the police department to purchase bullet proof vests. Hirschmann argued that even though incoming Chief Nick Willard had said he could absorb the cost of the vest replacements in his budget, he didn’t want him to have that kind of pressure. He also said the war on drugs starts with cops in the streets and the city should support their protection. After his motion failed, with only the support of the “all of sudden I love police officers” Alderman at-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur, Hirschmann angered members of the board for saying he couldn’t understand why they would vote to support funding a drug court, which they didn’t, but not police officers.
Following the passage of the city budget, which was just shy of one hundred forty four million dollars and the school budget, which was just over one hundred sixty one million, not counting the retention of their one million dollar surplus, and totaling over three hundred twenty four million three hundred thousand dollars, when everything, like county taxes, etc are counted, the board went into non public session to discuss tentative agreements that had been reached with unions representing police department personnel. After the meeting, they adjourned without taking any votes. Gatsas said they were unable to reach consensus. That means they didn’t have the votes to approve the agreements he negotiated and so the negotiations will continue.
That’s news from our own backyard, Girard at Large hour ___ is next