I wanted to take a moment to share my thoughts on the budget with you. This was not an easy process this year, and I did not take my responsibilities to the City lightly. The City, like all of us, is facing large expense increases due to inflation and the impacts of COVID-19. Fuel and electric prices, as well as costs for disability and medical insurance, all saw double-digit increases this year. To make matters worse, the State of NH cut $100M from public education funding, costing Dover $2M! Even with significant grant funding on the City-side of the budget, it was apparent that meeting the tax-cap was going to be difficult, if not impossible.
Once again, the process became contentious, pitting the school district against the rest of the City. In my opinion, this is completely unfair. Our schools had over $1.7M cut from their proposed budget last year, costing them over 20 staff positions, and denying teachers raises that had been promised by previous Councils and School Boards. With the $2M cut from the state this year, meeting the tax cap would have meant another 20+ positions cut. This is NOT a scare tactic. The school district actually issued 20+ reduction-in-force notices to staff while they awaited final word on the budget this year.
This year, the Council passed a resolution asking the School Board to present a budget with data-based decisions for their proposed needs. When a member of the School Board asked me if they should present a budget that truly funded all of their needs, I full-heartedly said "yes." Every other department presents a budget based on the needs identified by their leaders, so why should the schools be any different? The School Board created its budget based on the directive of the Council's resolution, with data-backed justifications for all of their needs.
The Council received roughly the same amount of support for a tax cap compliant budget as we received for supporting the school budget. But, the budget circumstances were extraordinary this year. Our schools are already behind, and they are struggling. Knowing what they were facing with a tax cap compliant budget was just not something I could accept. While deliberating on how much to cut from the proposed budget, I asked the school administration to provide us with the budgetary number they needed to avoid layoffs. This was, afterall, one of our stated goals. After a little more discussion, we passed a budget that maintained school staffing levels, something critical to the academic and social welfare of our City's children. As a taxpayer, I hate increases as much as the next person, but I ran on a platform of supporting public education, and I believe voters overwhelmingly elected me to do just that. Pro-education candidates won every School Board seat and most City Council seats, and I believe we honored our campaign promises.
A budget is a moral document, demonstrating and funding a community's values. We made it clear this year that Dover values public education. But, there is so much more to be proud of about the upcoming budget, whether tax-funded or grant-funded. We continue to fund paving and sidewalk improvements. We are investing in public safety by adding a much needed 4th ambulence to our Fire/EMS Department. We are making advances in equity by eliminating library fines. We continue our growing commitment to mental health services by keeping our new police social worker. We're investing in cyber-security upgrades across City departments. And, we're leading the way on storm-water management, protecting our natural environment. Our City is growing, and there are so many positive results. I believe our budget reflects that.
Budget details: On May 4, during a special meeting, the Dover City Council adopted the Fiscal Year 2023 budget by a vote of 8-1. The final budget is $180M, and is $17.2M, or 10.6%, over the prior year budget. The budget was about $3.17M over the tax-cap, requiring a 2/3 majority vote of the Council. The estimated tax rate for FY2023 is $22.46/$1,000 assessed value, or 76-cents/$1,000 above the current rate, which equates to an increase of 3.5%, pending approval by the NH Department of Revenue Services. The average home in Dover ($368,141) will see a roughly $279 increase in their tax bill.
For more information, visit the City of Dover's Budget Revealed webpage.