ROCHESTER - The City Council voted unanimously to approve $3 million needed to complete the Strafford Square Roundabout project on Tuesday, but not before the city's public works director took some heat for not having it approved in June as part of the regular budget.
"We were in a June meeting when this supplemental came up and the ink wasn't even dry on the budget and we're already looking at a supplemental," Councilor James Gray said. "We passed the budget. The budget should have contained this."
The City Manager responded by saying, "Where it didn't have any tax cap implications, we've over recent years anyway, when we're using bond proceeds, grant funds, state funding, we have done a bunch of these supplemental appropriations for capital projects outside the budget process. That's why I wasn't pushing heavily to have the director come up with some kind of estimate during the budget cycle."
"I didn't know what it (the estimate) would be," added Public Works Director Peter Nourse ... since I've been here (at Rochester DPW) the practice has been you do the best estimate you can, and every year we update our estimates in the CIP out years."
Nourse gave additional insight into why his department seeks supplemental appropriations so often.
"You have core work that really needs to get done and you have options," he explained. "We bring those to the council and the standard practice has been to seek supplemental appropriations to do that scope of work that the council has wanted to do. That's the way I've known it for many years here."
Beaudoin then referred to Section 40 of the City Charter that instructs department heads to submit itemized estimates for work they expect to do in the budget year, any tax cap implications notwithstanding.
"This was a known cost going into this fiscal year, and it should have been included in the budget," chided Beaudoin.
Councilor Tim Fontneau raised questions as to whether the process currently being used by Nourse and Cox was the right way to continue.
"From two different angles this has not had a good look from a public perception," Fontneau said. "The first was because it wasn't included in the budget process. The second is because it was such a large increase from original prediction. And it leaves all of us sitting up here taking the heat. So going forward it would be a good idea to get a handle on this."
Is there a way going forward that we can get a handle on this, so we don't run into this perception?" echoed Mayor Paul Callaghan.
"I could try to build in to every CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) cycle 'x' dollars for whatever we have planned, but I can't guarantee that's ever going to be enough. And it may be too much. And it may keep us from starting new projects."
Meanwhile, an oped in The Rochester Voice that accused the city of violating state statute sparked outcry from Rochester City Attorney Terence O'Rourke, who said the state statutes referred to by state rep and Rochester resident Cliff Newton in his oped didn't apply to cities, only towns that conduct their major financial allocations during an annual town meeting.
In reading through RSA 32:4 and 32:8 there are many references that the law applies to cities, but O'Rourke asserted that the application portion of the bill stating "any other municipal entities, including those created pursuant to RSA 53-A or 53-B" applies to towns, not cities.
When told that Chapter 40 of Rochester's City Charter presents the same obligation - that department heads prior to budget process present to the city manager all expected expenditures for the coming fiscal year - O'Rourke refused comment.
Newton has since amended his OPED, which was published earlier today, to reflect the commitments entrusted to department heads in Chapter 40 of Rochester's City Charter.
Bruce Kneur, a municipal bureau supervisor with the state Department of Revenue, told The Voice on Tuesday he would try to find some clarity with regard to O'Rourke's claims. He has yet to call with an answer.
In other business, the council voted 9-3 to increase water and sewer rates by 10 percent effective Aug. 1, a day prior to Tuesday's vote.
Voting against the hike were Gray, Skip Gilman and Beaudoin, who urged councilor to increase the rate by just five percent. Both Gilman and Beaudoin said the steep 10 percent hike that was passed would be a burden on their constituents, who are facing record gas and food prices amid hyperinflation and a recession.
Meanwhile, the ordinances dealing with water and sewer hookup fees were forwarded for more discussion at the City Council workshop to be held on Aug. 16.
Tuesday's meeting ended on a troubling note, with Callaghan calling another nonmeeting, which by state statute, requires no public access and no minutes.