After just 15 minutes of discussion, city councilors swiftly and unanimously passed a $67 million budget for Keene’s next fiscal year at their meeting Thursday night.
Appropriations for the 2019-20 fiscal year, which begins July 1, total about $67 million, and include the money to run day-to-day operations in city departments, personnel costs, water and sewer, payments on existing debt and one-time infrastructure projects. It also includes about $5.5 million in capital appropriations that don't affect the amount to be raised by taxes.
The $67 million figure doesn’t include new bonds to be issued. The council voted on those separately Thursday in the form of six resolutions totaling about $4.7 million and covering projects approved in the city’s capital improvement program, such as Woodward Pond Dam rehabilitation and repairs to the rear wall of City Hall.
Appropriations previously totaled $68 million, but that included a $1 million placeholder in both the revenue and expense side for the sale of part of 560 Main St., the former landfill. The sale, though, for $250,000 ended up being completed this fiscal year.
The budget will increase the city’s portion of the tax rate by about 21 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or around 1.5 percent, which would amount to a $42 increase on a home worth $200,000. The city portion of the tax rate would cost the homeowner $2,914.
Though no councilors amended the budget Thursday night, twice it seemed there might be a proposal on the table. At-Large Councilor Randy L. Filiault had sent a letter to the mayor and his colleagues informing them of his intent to propose cutting a $180,000 line item from the budget slated for a downtown revitalization study.
But he announced Thursday night that, after receiving more information from City Manager Elizabeth A. Dragon, he would not be suggesting the cut.
In an email to Filiault Thursday morning, Dragon said the city has another $30,000 available for the study, pooling $210,000 for the project. She outlined the goals for the money: $25,000 for data collection and inventory, $5,000 for a base plan, $45,000 for a traffic analysis, $50,000 for public outreach (which Dragon added could be scaled back), $60,000 for preliminary designs and $25,000 for an optional economic analysis.
“I’m hoping that we don’t have to spend the $180[thousand], and that the city manager alluded to this in here that she feels like [there are] some areas that we won’t have to spend the full amount,” Filiault said, adding that he’d like to see councilors cut spending at the committee level, too.
Another councilor tried to introduce an amendment at the meeting but encountered a logistical problem.
Ward 4 Councilor Robert B. Sutherland wanted to alter the funding for the Monadnock Humane Society, one of a handful of nonprofit organizations making a first-time request for city money. The humane society in Swanzey asked for $20,000, and Dragon recommended $2,000 in her budget proposal to the councilors.
Sutherland sought to increase that to $12,000, but he hit a snag: Any proposed budget amendments needed to be submitted in writing by Tuesday at 4 p.m. To introduce one Thursday night would require a suspension of the council’s rules by a two-thirds majority.
Only councilors Bettina A. Chadbourne and Margaret M. “Maggie” Rice voted with him to suspend the rules and allow the amendment proposal. The other 10 councilors voted no.
Of the 15-member body, Ward 1 Councilor Stephen L. Hooper and At-Large Councilor Bartlomiej K. “Bart” Sapeta were absent.
Sutherland told The Sentinel after the meeting that he had intended to submit his amendment Tuesday, but that a family member had a medical emergency.
A former board member with the humane society, Sutherland said he knows the organization’s work well and understands the value that its services offer city residents.
With no other discussion — aside from praise for Dragon, Finance Director Merri Howe and other city staff — councilors approved the budget as presented. It included tweaks recommended by finance committee members at their meeting May 23.
One of the committee’s tweaks increased funding for three nonprofit agencies, including The Samaritans of N.H., which focuses on suicide prevention and awareness. The amendment added $1,000, bringing its total to $3,500.
Home Healthcare, Hospice & Community Services has two line items in the outside agencies portion of the budget for two of its programs: Meals on Wheels, and the City Express and Friendly Bus. The amendment added $415 to Meals on Wheels, bringing the total to $12,865, and increased the transportation allotment by $1,400, raising that money to $91,500 this coming year.
Lastly, some money was redirected from a project on Elm Street, which is being postponed, to help cover unexpected expenses for the upcoming Marlboro Street rehabilitation. This change did not increase the budget.