By Josh Peterson, editor
The City of Manchester has instituted a spending freeze that will affect all city departments.
Last month, the city made a budget amendment and pulled $118,000 from its reserve fund to match grants for the ongoing downtown renovation project. The most recent budget amendment combined with pulling $757,000 from the city’s reserve budget ($540,000 to pay for the city’s new fire truck and $217,000 to cover revenue shortfall) to pass this year’s fiscal budget last summer has left the city needing to “recoup some funds,” according to Manchester alderman and finance committee chairman Cheryl Swan.
“I sat down with Mayor [Lonnie] Norman and [Finance Director] Bridgette [Anderson] to put a freeze on any spending unless it is an absolute necessity,” said Swan. “Those necessary purchases still have to be approved through Bridgette. It is so we can get that cash reserve replenished.”
Swan emphasized that even if the money is in each department’s individual budget that, unless the purchase is an absolute necessity, it will likely not be approved.
“We had someone’s turnout gear at the fire department expire so we had to get that ordered,” explained Swan. “But we don’t want to order five extra sets right now if we don’t need them … even if they were already in budget for this year. And that goes for all departments across the board.”
Swan also cited an uncertain cost for city health insurance as the reason for the spending freeze.
“We were notified that health insurance premiums have a 22 percent increase,” she explained. “We are bidding them out but this is frustrating news for both the city and the employees. We really hope we can absorb an increase for the employees but I honestly do not see how we can absorb all of it.”
The finance committee will meet at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 10 to open bids for insurance.
“I think a 50-50 split of the increase [in insurance] is the best [the city] could do but I’m not sure at this point if we can even do that,” explained Swan. I refuse to support a tax increase so we will have to make cuts next budget year and find more ways to save between now and then.
“The city has a great bunch of employees and we do not want to lose them because of our benefit package.”
Recreation department needs money to match grant
The Manchester Recreation Committee met Thursday in a special-called meeting to discuss Local Parks and Recreation Fund grant possibilities and voted to pursue a $300,000 grant to advance construction at the new Manchester Sports Park, which is set to house the city’s first soccer complex.
Should the grant application gain approval at the state level, the city would need to pitch in $150,000 to match the grant for a total of $300,000 for the project, which Manchester recreation director Bonnie Gamble said would be used to build a restroom facility, pave the parking area, make two usable practice fields out of the area where future fields are expected to be built and add irrigation to a field. The Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen will need to give Gamble the go-ahead before she can apply for the grant.
“A restroom would run about $160,000 for an 800 square-foot facility,” Jim Gilliam with Hart, Freeland and Roberts explained to the recreation commission. “That doesn’t’ include water, sewer and electric.”
Gilliam provided an estimate in the range of $140,000 to pave the parking lot with asphalt, but conceded that using a tar-and-chip method could save a “substantial” amount of money. But, according to Manchester Codes Director Paul Guess, parking surfaces have to be asphalt or concrete and can’t be tar and chip.
“Those just don’t really hold up well,” said Guess.
An ordinance prohibiting tar-and-chip parking surfaces passed the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen in Sept. of 2008, according to Guess.
If Gamble is given the go ahead by the city and is approved for the grant at the state level, she said that local non-profit Park Partners (which donated $125,000 to help build the first phase of the soccer complex) could donate as much as $30,000 as part of the city’s match and said that the Manchester Tourism Committee could be willing to donate a substantial amount of money, as well.
“If Park Partners gives us $30,000 and tourism could give at least $30,000, that would leave us about $90,000 we still need [for the city’s match],” Gamble explained to the recreation commission.
Gamble estimated that the city wouldn’t start the project until January of 2015, leaving the city two years to cover its portion of the match. She added that some of the match amount can be from in-kind labor, such as installing an irrigation system or using city workers for certain jobs.
Swan said the current spending freeze likely wouldn’t have an impact on the grant process from the city’s perspective.
“When we start working on the budget for next fiscal year, which will be soon, we are going to require a 10-percent budget cut in all departments across the board,” explained Swan. “That includes recreation. But we hate to turn away free money that is going to help the city. So we will try to do what we can to make things work.”
If the grant isn’t pursued or approved, the recreation department plans to place portable toilets at the site and the parking area will be gravel, which is against city code that calls for parking areas to be “dust free.”
The soccer complex is expected to begin hosting games this fall.