Cruel summer

Unlike last summer, when I was bogged down every week with a ridiculous amount of news, this summer proved to be a little boring. Not too much excitement here, except perhaps for the Free Staters. I like to think of Free Staters as the great uncle of the Tea Party. There’s a lot of overlap in philosophy, but Free Staters are a little more libertarian and a little more into conspiracy theories. I think it’s more than fair to let readers know where politicians stand in a city race and an allegiance to a political movement is rightly in that realm. After this ran, there were a few aldermen who thanked me for the mention, though I think they said that purely for selfish reasons.

Aldermen expected to propose changes in city tax cap

After three meeting-free weeks, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen is jumping right back to business by tackling the city’s tax cap.

When the aldermen meet on Tuesday, they are expected to review proposed changes to the tax cap that would give them a little breathing room when putting together the fiscal year 2013 budget. The cap was passed in 2009, but the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled it illegal. Legislation passed during the recent session at the State House put Manchester’s tax cap back on the books. The timing couldn’t be better — or worse depending on your position — as Manchester is looking toward a budget year that is expected to be even rougher than the last.

The proposal would exempt agencies that operate with enterprise funds, such as the Airport Division, Parks and Recreation, Environmental Protection Division and Parking, so that money spent on a new parking garage or a major sewer project wouldn’t count toward the cap. The proposal would also exclude money spent on bonds for projects such as the baseball stadium and the municipal complex.

Under the current tax cap, the limit on the property tax increase is tied to the Consumer Price Index, but that’s assuming the index goes up. Deputy City Solicitor Tom Arnold said it’s unclear what would happen if the index went down. The same goes for property values in a revaluation year, such as the one the city is in now whose initial findings show property values down between 15 percent and 20 percent city-wide.

“Yes, there’s some ambiguity,” said Arnold. “We’re not really sure how it would work in that type of scenario. At least some of the suggested changes are to bring some clarity to that situation, particularly where we have decreased property values.”

Under the proposal, if either goes down, the tax rate’s rate of change would be zero and the budget would be flat-funded.

The aldermen are expected to work quickly on the changes in hopes of getting a charter amendment on the November ballot. Continue reading