By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The City Council adopted the 2016-2017 municipal budget this week. Leaving the school district budget unchanged, councilors put the finishing touches to the city budget by shuffling money between line items and tapping into reserve accounts without adding to the bottom line of the spending plan City Manager Scott Myers presented in March.
The grand total appropriation of $64,923,258 represents an increase of $880,506, or 1.4 percent, in the municipal budget. Total revenues from sources other than property taxes rose 0.9 percent to $26,927,422. And the total amount to be raised by property taxes rose by $705,421, or 1.8 percent, to $38,055,836.
The total city appropriation of $23,850,943 represents an increase of $1,045,482, or 4.6 percent, while revenues from sources other than property taxes rose $576,661, or 8.1 percent to $7,665,275. With the the increased revenues, the council was able to spend more than the tax cap would indicate while budgeting within the limits it imposes on the amount to be raised by property taxes.
The total school appropriation rose slightly, from $37,985,778 to $37,994,497. School revenues shrank by more than $680,000 with a reduction in state aid, while expenses, particularly the cost of special education and health insurance premiums rose by nearly $1 million, requiring some $1.2 million in reduced expenditures to budget within the bounds of the tax cap.
City Manager Scott Myers said Tuesday that since the value of new construction is expected to increase the total assessed valuation by at least $32 million, from $1,883,868,173 to $1,915,868,173, the increase in the budget is projected to add 3 cents to the property tax rate, raising it from $22.20 to $22.23 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3), who chairs the Finance Committee, presented a series of motions specifying the adjustments to the budget agreed among the councilors at a work session two weeks ago. Altogether, the council transferred $131,000 from proposed appropriations for street repairs, salaries and overtime wages for firefighters, and debt service on a borrowing to repair the downtown parking garage. An equal amount was applied to appropriate $10,000 to treat milfoil, $60,000 to replace radios for the Fire Department, $30,000 to study downtown parking and $1,000 to design a city flag, while the appropriation for the senior center was increased by $5,000. The council added $25,000 the contingency account in anticipation of defraying expenses incurred should the city seek to purchase the former Laconia State School property on North Main Street.
At the same time, the council agreed to transfer another $254,000 drawn from reserve accounts to provide $78,000 for restoring the tennis courts at Leavitt Park, $15,000 for revitalizing playgrounds, $15,000 for installing bleachers at the softball field at Memorial Park. $35,000 for funding the city's 125th anniversary celebration, $60,000 to replenish the salary line in the Fire Department budget and $16,000 to restore the funding for street repairs. And, at the request of Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) added another $10,000 to repair windows at Laconia High School.
The city budget funds a 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment for city employees and a 9.71 percent increase in health insurance contributions. It also includes $1,500,000, an increase of $100,000, for street repairs along with another $275,000 for bridge, sidewalk, guardrail and drainage maintenance and improvements. The budget includes the principal and interest payments on two borrowings, one of $1 million to fund the reconstruction of Lakeside Avenue at The Weirs and another of $300,000 to fund improvements to the storm drains on Messer Street north of the Winnipesaukee River.
Myers originally proposed borrowing $3 million to fund structural repairs to the downtown parking garage. However, the council discarded the proposal and instead applied the principal and interest payment of $30,000 to fund the work of committee that will be convened to study downtown parking. Myers said that, apart from routine maintenance, nothing will be spent to overcome the deficiencies at the parking garage and the top deck will remain closed.