After two years of responding to the pandemic, city officials are looking for a “fresh start” as they consider a new $123.6 million city budget that would increase spending by 13% by raising taxes and more federal aid and money from the city’s rains would be used day funds.
The proposed total budget, which includes capital expenditures, adds $14 million to the fiscal 2022 budget approved last June. The city tax rate is set to increase by 4.8%, which translates to an additional $126 per year for a $300,000 home.
Residents have already seen their tax bills spike over the past year as Concord revalued properties, which “put a disproportionate share on homeowners to shoulder more of the community’s property tax burden than in years past,” City Manager Tom Aspell confirmed in his Budget letter to the City Council.
Home prices have soared during the pandemic given the limited housing stock. At the same time, commercial property values stayed flatter, prompting the city to rely on homeowners paying a larger share of taxes. According to the City Surveyor, average home ratings have increased by 45% since 2011.
In his letter to the city council, Aspell wrote that the city hopes the new form-based zoning code, due to be passed later this year, will encourage more residential and mixed-use development and ease the pressure on residential taxpayers.
More than 60% of taxes are used for public safety – 33% for the fire brigade and 30% for the police. Benefits and compensation account for three-fourths of the $74.5 million in general fund spending, which is up 7% year over year.
The budget provides for the hiring of four fire ambulance crew members for 9 months, plus paying overtime expenses and upgrading the certifications of 14 EMTs to Advanced EMTs, totaling $841,000. The personnel costs of the fire brigade alone are responsible for 1.82% of the tax rate increase.
“This budget represents the largest increase in emergency services investment in a generation,” City Manager Tom Aspell wrote in his letter. The request for a new ambulance comes after the council put in place temporary measures to cope with increased emergency calls. In March, the council agreed to fund $144,000 in overtime and the fire department moved an ambulance from Manor Station to Central Fire in response to guidance from a fire station site study.
The city received $2.28 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding last July and expects to receive its second $2.28 million payment this summer. The City Council approved using $877,000 to replace lost parking ticket revenue during the pandemic, half of which will be spent this year, with an additional $438,358 to be spent in the next fiscal year. In addition, $945,000 in rescue plan funds will be used to pay employee wages and “other operating costs.”
The stated purpose of the White House’s American Rescue Plan Act was “to provide direct assistance to Americans to contain COVID-19 and save the economy.”
General Services will also use a $760,000 ARPA grant received through the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services for $3.8 million upgrades at the Hall Street Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Another change in the budget is that dependency on the city’s rainy days fund has decreased, although not disappeared. While the city budgeted $1.75 million of the unallocated fund balance last fiscal year, next year’s proposed budget would use $375,000.
The Regentag Fund is made up of years’ savings to be spent in emergencies, but last year the city manager warned that continued reliance on the fund could harm the city’s long-term financial health.
The proposed budget includes new positions, including an assistant city attorney, four paramedics, two park rangers, a network security engineer, an assistant golf pro and a part-time financial technician at Parks and Recreation.
The City Manager will publicly present the budget on Monday, May 23 at 5:30 p.m. A session on public safety, general services and general administration will be held on May 26.
The June 2 meeting will focus on community development, the library, parks and recreation, social services and the capital improvement program – then projects such as the controversial Phase 3 extension of Langley Parkway will be discussed. On June 6, special yield funds such as the golf and park fund are up for discussion.
Finally, public hearings and votes on the budget are scheduled to take place on June 9th.