Ruais tackles questions from Ward 7 residents

On Wednesday night Manchester Mayor Ruais held a town hall meeting at the Manchester Fire Department Station 7 on Somerville Street to talk with Ward 7 residents. Here’s a recap of what was discussed.

Jay Ruais on June 19, 2024. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

Budget

The Fiscal Year 2025 budget was finalized on Tuesday, ending what Ruais called a difficult budget season. Along with a four percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) increase for many city employees, there were also was a $2 million increase in healthcare costs for city employees, $1.7 million used last year in surplus that could no longer be used and an upcoming unexpected tax abatement from the Mall of New Hampshire.

Ruais told the audience that while investments were made, such as transferring 10 police officer salaries onto the general fund from expiring COPS Grants, the hiring of a new firefighter, investing $5.3 million in road repair and $1 million in sidewalks. However, other cuts were made: $1.53 million from the city’s Fiscal Year 2024 surplus went directly to tax relief, with $1 million of which originally intended for the city’s rainy-day fund and severance accounts. There were $600,000 in cuts from vacant positions that will not be refilled and 15 percent was cut from the city’s borrowing obligations, something Ruais said was very important for the long-term financial health of the city.

Difficult decisions will need to be made in the near future, Ruais said, as federal funding connected to COVID relief begins to taper off, with the Beech Street Shelter being one of the key items that will need to find new funding.

“That cliff is coming in 2026 when all of those federal dollars will go away,” he said.

He also praised Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long and others on the board for their ability to eventually find compromise, citing the final $227.9 million school budget as an example given that proposals for that budget ranged from $232 million to as little as $216 million.

“Given the fiscal realities, we did a lot for the city,” he said. “An evenly-split board was sent by the voters and that required compromise, but we have some really great relationships on the board and I think it shows what we can do when we work together to get things accomplished.”

Homelessness/Housing

Ruais was excited about the results of the recent surplus property auction and the money from that sale of surplus properties that could potentially help developers build more affordable housing in the city.

While Ruais stated that the Beech Street Shelter and Engagement Center is an important piece of the city’s approach to tackling homelessness, efforts are still underway to find a non-profit organization to either takeover or at least help in its management before funding runs out at the end of November.

Ruais also talked about the need for more transitional housing, given that even with new support at the Beech Street’s engagement center, people cannot fully transition out of homelessness until they can afford housing, something that is still difficult given the lack of housing stock in the city. He said that one potential place where this housing could come is at upper levels of the Beech Street shelter itself.

One man said that the FIT Shelter on Manchester Street is an eyesore and asked why more isn’t being done to clean up the area, asking why the Department of Public Works’ frequent efforts to clean up the area are not enough. Ruais said that he has diverted police and park rangers to the area as well as at Victory Park and Veterans’ Park to provide support and he drives home past the FIT Shelter every day to visually check progress.

Ruais also expressed the need for great collaboration with smaller municipalities in the state so they can help their own homeless populations rather than sending them to Manchester even though they may not have the expertise given their limited exposure to the problem.

“We will help (towns), but we can’t bear the burden of the entire state because then we can’t help anybody,” he said.

In response to concerns about harassment from homeless people across from the library, Ruais noted that eight downtown clean-up crew members will be starting on July 1 and the Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson Supreme Court case could potentially change how municipalities like Manchester respond to homeless individuals.


Officer Brian Karoul was on hand to answer questions. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

Crime

One resident was impressed with the response from the city regarding concerns about people going into a building slated for demolition at night. Others expressed that there was improvement regarding speeders and that there were reports of used needles left on the ground in certain areas.

One woman asked if the Shotspotter program can be expanded. It was explained that locations for Shotspotter devices are determined by a certain algorithm. Ruais also noted that opioid overdoses are down this year compared to last year.

One man felt that it would be appropriate to install cameras downtown to help crack down on crime. Ruais said that the Manchester Police Department have frequent patrols in the downtown area and many businesses also participate in Fusus, a software program that connects private cameras to the police bodycam network.

There were also concerns over an individual storing cars in a garage near the corner of Silver and Wilson streets blocking a nearby alleyway. It was indicated that those concerns could be relayed to the city’s parking enforcement division.

Other

A resident asked if he could drop off yard waste for free at the Manchester transfer station on weeks when there isn’t yard waste pickup at people’s homes. During some parts of the year, weekly lawn waste pickup is possible, but not now. Ruais said he would ask the Department of Public Works, noting that twice a month pickup is $167,000 and it costs $2 million annually for recycling.

Ruais also asked everyone in attendance to use the See-Click-Fix app if they notice potholes and contact him with any concerns, such as a paving project near the intersection of Young and Jewett Streets that had fallen off the radar two years after it was supposed to be repaved.

for previous town halls, see below