Mayor Ruais vetoes his own budget

Mayor Jay Ruais (left) and Ward 1 Alderman Chris Morgan, right, talk as Ward 12 Alderman Kelly Thomas (far left) and Ward 11 Alderman Norm Vincent (center) listen in. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

MANCHESTER, N.H. – A parliamentarian likely would have been in heaven at Tuesday night’s Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) meeting. For everybody else though, it was a little hellish – and hard to follow.

In what was a particularly peculiar predicament in the annals of local government, Manchester Mayor Jay Ruais vetoed his own Fiscal Year 2025 city budget just seconds after voting for it and minutes after the BMA were deadlocked twice and then suspended their own rules to vote again, only be deadlocked for a third time.

Under the city’s charter, a fiscal year budget must be presented no later than the second Tuesday in June, which this year falls on June 11 – one week from the next scheduled meeting on June 18. However, the charter also indicates that the budget may be approved by June 30, the last day of the fiscal year for the city, if the proposed budget is vetoed by the mayor.

Ruais was required to present a tax-cap compliant budget in March, which he did. Most years the Aldermen then either accept the mayor’s proposal or present their own proposal, something that was not released to the public this year. Ruais later told Manchester Ink Link that an Aldermanic proposal had been delayed after additional surplus funding was sought to lower property taxes beyond just over the initial approximate $1 million amount.


Ward 3 Pat Long on June 4, 2024. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long, along with support from Ward 10 Alderman Bill Barry and Ward 9 Alderman Jim Burkish, released a draft budget to the other Aldermen on Friday. That budget, along with two separate motions, would have put the FY’ 25 property tax increase at 3.59 percent. The mayor’s budget when released in March would have put the increase at 3.86 percent, but that had been adjusted to 4.06 percent as of Tuesday – after projections shifted over the past three months.

The first motion was to transfer surplus funding not expected to be used in the recently-renewed city employee study and place it into the City Assessor’s overlay fund, which is used to fund property tax abatements and refunds. The other motion would have taken any surplus funding from FY’ 24 and instead of equally splitting it between the city’s rainy day fund, employee severance and tax relief, all of the surplus would go to tax relief.

Both of these motions failed by a vote of 9-5, as these motions needed 10 votes to pass per the city charter. In both motions, opposition was made by Ward 1 Alderman Chris Morgan, Ward 6 Alderman Crissy Kantor, Ward 8 Alderman Ed Sapienza, Ward 11 Alderman Norm Vincent and BMA Chairman At-Large Alderman Joseph Kelly Levasseur.

Without the two motions, the Long budget could not get under four percent, a threshold that no one on the BMA wanted to surpass, leading Ruais to request that the BMA go back to the drawing board in upcoming days for a compromise that would suit everyone.

However, the approximately $185 million city budget was just one of several budgetary resolutions (see agenda screenshot) that had to be concluded by the deadline or vetoed, with City Clerk Matt Normand informing the board that the mayor’s requests in the agenda would be instituted by default if the BMA could not approve alternative amounts.

Initially, Ruais said that the BMA should delay action on the city budget, school budget and Community Improvement Program (CIP) appropriation amount and either passing or ignoring the other eight items. Unlike the other items, CIP comes largely from state and federal funding. However, there were concerns that without action on the school budget, the Manchester School District would lose valuable time hiring needed staff for the upcoming school year. Those in favor of Long’s budget also balked at further delays

“I don’t know how much more we could have done or could do to reach out to everybody to say we have to work as a board,” said Long.


Above: Modifications from the Mayor’s budget in the Long Budget


Ward 5 Alderman Anthony Sapienza voted to appropriate $230 million for the school budget, losing that vote 10-4 (he was joined by Long, Ward 4 Alderwoman Christine Fajardo and At-Large Alderman Dan O’Neil).

There was concern by Kantor that the just under $228 million figure should actually be much lower given a lack of expected aid coming from pieces of legislation that stalled in the New Hampshire State Senate, but Manchester School District Chief Financial Officer Karen DeFrancis indicated that updated FY’ 24 surplus projections could replace the lost state aid figures in the school budget recommended by the Board of School Committee and then presented by the mayor.

A vote on tabling the city budget, school budget and CIP budget failed 9-5 (Morgan, Kantor, Ed Sapienza, Vincent and Levasseur voted in favor) and then the BMA passed the original just-under $228 million school budget 10-4 (Kantor, Ed Sapienza, Vincent and Levasseur in opposition).

That vote breakdown was repeated in a motion to accept the approximately $300,000 in CIP amendments presented along with the Long budget and then the mayor’s original CIP proposal (available on page 24-27 of his budget proposal) and a motion to pass the other eight budgets were approved by 9-5 votes (on both, Morgan joined the four opposing the school budget).

With only the approximately $185 million city budget left, it was unclear whether a special meeting would be needed on or before June 11, with Ruais still preferring to veto the budget so a new proposal could be brought forward by the end of the month.

However, Ruais could not veto the vote as it was a 7-7 tie and he believed that a tie-breaking no vote was different than a veto. On that vote, support was obtained by Ward 2 Alderman Dan Goonan and Ward 12 Alderman Kelly Thomas as well as Morgan, Long, Burkish, Barry and O’Neil. A motion to reconsider the vote passed on a voice vote, but a second attempt led to another 7-7 vote (Ward 7 Alderman Ross Terrio being joined by Goonan, Long, Burkish, Barry, Thomas and O’Neil). After a brief recess, the board voted to suspend their rules to allow for a third vote and the 9-5 breakdown from earlier returned, although Ed Sapienza officially abstained, allowing Ruais to veto the budget. A motion to override the veto failed 9-4 (Goonan, Fajardo, Tony Sapienza and O’Neil in support) and then the board voted 7-7 to adjourn before Long could make another motion, with the mayor breaking the tie by voting with those who voted to adjourn (Morgan, Kantor, Levasseur, Terrio, Ed Sapienza, Vincent, Thomas).

Terrio heard from Normand that this had been the first time in 30 years that an adjournment vote required a roll call. Ruais also was told by Normand that this year is the first time in city history with a board split 7-7 ideologically.

“You’re going to have these negotiations, these types of things are going to happen when you have people with strong passions on both sides and you have it split evenly down the middle,” said Ruais.

No date for a final vote on the city budget was set, with negotiations set to take place in upcoming days, although there was plenty of frustration to go around throughout the evening.

“I think there is credibility to criticism of this board that we have dragged our feet and put ourselves in this corner,” said Fajardo. “I don’t think we’ve done a service to the taxpayers of this city when this is how we do it.”


UPDATE:

Ruais issued the following statement on Wednesday regarding the status of the city’s budget:

 

     “Since the beginning of my term, I’ve remarked on the difficult nature of our current budget situation.  It’s being driven by historically high COLA’s, a substantial increase to health care costs for city employees, a carried surplus debit from last year, and a significant increase to our overlay account.  In total, this represents a $10.6 million hole. Last night, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved 7 out of 8 budget resolutions with broad support. This includes $227.9 million for our schools, a compromise amount, that represents the largest ever appropriated. I look forward to working with the Board to discuss the remaining resolution, and am confident we will strike an agreement that will deliver results for our city, and our taxpayers, while setting Manchester up for success.”