After two years of reacting to the pandemic, city officials are looking for a “restart” as they consider a new city budget of $123.6 million, which would increase spending by 13% by increasing taxes and using more federal aid and money from the city’s rainy day fund.
The total proposed budget, which includes capital spending, adds $14 million over the fiscal year 2022 budget approved last June. The city tax rate is set to rise 4.8%, adding about an extra $126 a year for a house valued at $300,000.
Residents have already seen their tax bills increase in the last year as Concord reassessed properties, which “placed a disproportionate share on homeowners to carry more of the community’s property tax burden than in years past,” City Manager Tom Aspell acknowledged in his budget letter to the City Council.
With limited housing stock, home prices soared during the pandemic. At the same time, commercial property values stayed more flat, leading the city to rely on homeowners to pay a greater share of taxes. Average assessments of homes have increased 45% since 2011, according to the city assessor.
In his letter to the council, Aspell wrote that the city hopes the new form-based zoning code set to be adopted later this year will encourage more residential and mixed-use development, alleviating some pressure on residential taxpayers.
More than 60% of taxes will go to pay for public safety – 33% for fire and 30% for police. Three-quarters of the $74.5 million in general fund spending, which is up 7% from last year, is made up of benefits and compensation.
The budget calls for hiring four people for a Fire Department ambulance crew for 9 months, plus paying for overtime costs and upgrading the certifications of 14 emergency medical technicians to Advanced EMTs, a total of $841,000. Those Fire Department staffing costs alone are responsible for 1.82% of the tax rate increase.
“This budget includes the single largest increase in the investment of emergency services in a generation,” City Manager Tom Aspell wrote in his letter. The request for a new ambulance comes after the council has put temporary measures in place to address higher emergency call volumes. In March, the council agreed to fund $144,000 in overtime costs and the Fire Department moved one ambulance from Manor Station to Central Fire in response to guidance from a fire station location study.
The city received $2.28 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds last July, and expects to receive the second $2.28 million payment this summer. City Council approved the use of $877,000 to replace lost parking ticket revenue during the pandemic, half of which will be spent this year, with an additional $438,358 spent in the next fiscal year. In addition, $945,000 in rescue plan money will be used to pay employee wages and “other operating costs.”
The stated purpose of the American Rescue Plan Act by the White House was to “provide direct relief to Americans, contain COVID-19, and rescue the economy.”
General Services will also use a $760,000 ARPA grant obtained through the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services for $3.8 million worth of updates to the Hall Street Wastewater Treatment Facility.
Another change in the budget is that the dependence on the city’s rainy day fund has decreased, although not disappeared. While in the last fiscal year, the city put $1.75 million of the unassigned fund balance towards the budget, next year’s proposed budget would use $375,000.
The rainy day fund is made up of previous’ years’ savings to be spent in emergencies, but last year the city manager warned that continuing to rely on the fund could damage the city’s fiscal health in the long run.
The proposed budget includes new positions including an assistant city prosecutor, four paramedics, two parking officers, a network security engineer, an assistant golf professional and a part-time fiscal technician in Parks and Recreation.
The city manager will present the budget publicly at 5:30 pm on Monday, May 23. On May 26, a session on public safety, general services and general government will be held.
The June 2 meeting will focus on community development, the library, parks and recreation, human services and the capital improvement program – that’s when projects like the controversial phase 3 Langley Parkway extension will be discussed. On June 6, special revenue funds like the golf and parking funds are up for discussion.
Finally, public hearings and voting on the budget are scheduled to take place on June 9.