Council Votes to Restore Budget Cuts Through Taxes

In light of the Oct. 13 special election, the Derry Town Council voted unanimously to raise another $1,631,704 through taxation.

The amount represents the funds that were cut from the budget after the Council’s May 19 budget vote. The Council voted to restore the funds in its Oct. 20 meeting, and agreed to do that by taxation.

The funds were originally cut from eight areas: police staff, fire staff, public works staff, police overtime, fire overtime, public works overtime, elimination of the Human Resources Director position and closure of a fire station. The majority of the Council voted to cut the funds and the original 4-3 vote resulted in a cut of $1.21 to the tax rate.

However, residents protested the effect of the cuts on town services, and a group of residents presented eight “referendum petitions,” one on each of the items. When the Council majority declined to honor the petitions, three residents took the town to court, and a Rockingham Superior Court judge found in favor of the residents. The Council appealed the decision to the New Hampshire Supreme Court but the appeal failed and the election was held Oct. 13.

The question still remained, where were the remaining funds to come from? And the answer came at the Oct. 20 meeting.

Chief Financial Officer and Acting Town Administrator Susan Hickey said the money could be restored by a supplemental appropriation or through taxation. Hickey noted that with previous cuts that were not challenged, there would still be a $1.04 drop in the tax rate.

Council Chair Tom Cardon made a motion that the money be restored, which was seconded by Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores.

But Councilor Richard Tripp objected, saying, “Is it by taxation or by going into the Unexpended Fund Balance? We should have that in the motion.”

Cardon made another motion to have the money put back in and raised by taxation.

Councilor David Fischer objected. “I am concerned,” he said. “We as a Council did not receive any information on our options. Where did the $1.04 come from? Why were we not informed?”

He asked Cardon, “Was this decision made unilaterally?”

Fischer said in view of the Oct. 13 vote, “I will support the will of the people.”

Fischer pressed Cardon to say with whom he had discussed the options and Cardon said, “We did.”

“Who’s ‘we’?” Fischer asked.

“Myself and Susan Hickey,” Cardon responded.

Fischer said, “I have no information on this. It should have been in my packet.”

“That’s why it’s on the agenda,” Cardon responded.

Fischer said, “I support the will of the people. My concern is the lack of communication.”

Katsakiores agreed. “If information is shared, it should be shared among us all,” she said. “From here on in, we should all be informed.”

Cardon said his intention was not to leave anyone out. “I didn’t know how we should handle this – it’s all new territory,” he said.

Councilor Joshua Bourdon said as far as he was concerned, there were no “options.” “The will of the people as shown Oct. 13 is to raise this through taxation,” he said. “The majority of the people said they would rather pay more taxes and get the services.”

Cardon asked the Council, “Do we want to put this off until we have a chance to discuss it?”

The other Councilors said no, and the audience, which had been quiet to this point, echoed that with a roar.

“Procedurally, are we in a shape to do this?” Councilor Mark Osborne asked, and Cardon said they were.

Fischer pressed the issue about communication and said, “It’s important that we see, that the public sees, that every dollar is accounted for.”

In the final vote, Bourdon, Tripp, Katsakiores, Osborne, Albert Dimmock and Cardon voted in favor of restoring the money through taxation. Fischer was originally hesitant.

“I don’t know what I’m voting on,” he said. “If it’s the will of the people, yes. If it’s dollar for dollar, I don’t know.”

He pointed out that the Council had not had a chance to discuss a free petition by community member Marc Flattes, in which Flattes asked the Council to pro-rate adding the money back in.

The Council did not discuss the free petition because it was next on the agenda, and Cardon said, “It is not something we can consider now that we’ve done the vote.”

“I wish we could have talked about it,” Fischer said.

They did, in the next agenda item, where Cardon said that the town’s attorney had advised them that pro-rating the replacement of the funds “is not something we can do.” It would bring the council back to square one, he said.

Tripp thanked Flattes for his work and said, “Petitions are one of the ways we can listen to the people.”

“A free petition is part of the process,” Fischer said. “It’s something we should have considered.”

The Council agreed not to take action on Flattes’ petition.

Ripples from the Oct. 13 vote touched other areas of town business. Hickey said the consulting group MRI had finished its assessment of the town’s Human Resources department. “They conducted several interviews over seven days and made some recommendations for significant changes,” Hickey said. The savings from implementing the recommendations could save the town $100,000 a year, she said, but cannot be implemented because of the voters’ mandate to fill the Human Resources Director position.

Though two uniformed Derry police officers were present, the meeting was otherwise uneventful, and in his Chairman’s remarks, Cardon praised the town for turning out for the vote.

“It was so nice to see more than 6,000 people at the polls,” he said. “But I wouldn’t advise future Councils to go through what we went through.”

Cardon expressed thanks to Town Clerk Denise Neale, Town Moderator Margaret Ives, and Executive Assistant Sheila Bodenrader for their part in making the election happen.

Cardon exhorted the town to move on and work together, and said in his opinion it had already begun. “I was out holding a sign the Monday night before the election, and the people standing on either side of me had been on the other side of the question,” he said. “We were laughing and joking, we had a good time. And these were people I had had removed from meetings.”