BERLIN — The city council is less than two weeks away from voting on a final 2020 fiscal year budget and the amount of state education funding the city will receive is still unclear.
The council Monday night held a first reading of the $32.5 million general fund budget that it presented at last month’s public hearing. The proposed budget is $277,393 less than the current budget and also projects an $879,000 reduction in state education stabilization funds.
If enacted, the proposed budget would result in layoffs in just about every city department including police, fire and public works. In addition to closing the Brown Elementary School, the school department would not fill a number of positions.
Mayor Paul Grenier said he believed Gov. Chris Sununu has a better understanding of Berlin’s fiscal crisis after the May 24 meeting with city and school officials.
Grenier noted that the House-passed budget would be the most generous to Berlin — it would restore the stabilization funds and provide $1.1 million in new education funding this year and $2 million next year. But he said Sununu has vowed to veto that budget.
Grenier said the Senate Finance Committee has passed a budget that will go before the entire Senate for a vote today. The Senate Finance budget proposal is not as generous to the city as the House one, but does include restoring the stabilization funds. The mayor said he feels the two budgets will end up in a committee of conference and there will be negotiations with the governor’s office.
Grenier said he believes full restoration of the stabilization funds is likely. If that happens, he said he hopes the council will be able to restore some of the positions that were cut.
But Grenier said a decision on state education funding is unlikely to be made before the end of June. He said the city will have to vote on a budget on June 17 based on the best information it has at that time. He said the city can then adjust the budget later based on the final state funding.
In other business:
• The city will go out for bids to mill and overlay a 5,000-foot section of Hutchins Street from the intersection of East Mason Street to the Chapman garage. Public Works Director Eric Grenier said he estimates it will cost $546,000 but said the city won’t know until it goes out for bids. He said it would not be a full reconstruction but would be a big improvement over the current condition of the road there. The project was one the city submitted to Gov. Sununu for his plan to use some state revenues for “one time strategic investments.” Sununu’s plan, however, ran into opposition from the Legislature. Mayor Grenier noted there is discussion in Concord about returning some surplus funds to the communities through revenue sharing. He said he wanted the city to be ready if that happens.
• Finance Director Patty Chase said tax deeding will occur on June 12 and reviewed a list of 59 properties with the council. She said some property owners are expected to make payment before the deadline so the list will change. The council identified a number of properties it did not want the city to tax deed because of potential environmental contamination such as the cell house Superfund site. All of the properties listed have not paid property taxes dating back to 2015.
• City Manager James Wheeler reported that Spohn Ranch has completed the concrete work at the city’s new skate park. Burgess BioPower made a $1,200 donation to allow the city to purchase colored concrete for it. While kids were using the park over the weekend, Wheeler said the city has closed it to allow the remaining loaming and seeding to be done.
• The city has been granted a court order to remediate the code violations and dangerous conditions at George Stanley’s property at 469 Hillsboro St. Wheeler said the city will take steps to clean the property within the next few weeks. Councilor Roland Theberge reported someone was interested in purchasing a neighboring property until they saw the Stanley building.