Driven by capital projects, city budget proposal would boost spending by $40 million

The proposed city budget for next year tops $170 million, with the increase driven by a ballooning capital project's budget.

The proposed city budget for next year tops $170 million, with the increase driven by a ballooning capital project's budget. —Courtesy photo

By CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN

Monitor staff

Published: 05-10-2024 6:27 PM

Modified: 05-13-2024 6:12 PM


With capital expenditures more than doubling, total spending in the city of Concord would increase by more than $40 million next year under the city manager’s proposed budget, while several major projects still wait in the wings. 

If approved as presented, Concord’s 2025 budget would top $170 million, a 30% increase in spending over this year. The municipal tax rate is expected to increase by 3.89% – about $130 a year for a house worth $350,000 – since many big-ticket items will be paid off through bonds and the city is dipping into its unassigned funds to balance the budget,

The tax increase will come alongside larger hikes in water and sewer rates of 7.5% and 8% to pay for major water infrastructure projects in the next few years, including major sewer improvements on the Heights. 

“These rate increases are necessary to meet ongoing operational increases and capital infrastructure needs,” city manager Tom Aspell wrote in his letter introducing the new budget, and ratepayers should expect “larger rate increases in future years.”

Additionally, major city initiatives – like building a new police department, renovating Memorial Field and updating the golf course clubhouse – are left out of the spending plan.  

Overview

The city’s $83 million proposed general fund is up more than 6% from the current year, almost half of which comes from rising employee compensation and benefits. Overall payroll is increasing by $1.8 million to $38 million, while benefits increased by $1.5 million to $23 million. Together, salary and benefits make up three-quarters of taxpayer spending.

“New investments in this budget are based on informed analysis that supports long-term goals, includes a process of regularly reviewing operations, and ensures a continued delivery of excellent core services,” Aspell wrote.

The police department budget is slated for a 2% increase, but that excludes hundreds of thousands requested for a retention bonus program and up to $40 million for the new police station. The budget calls for the purchase of four new police vehicles for $280,000 and a new fire engine for $1.1 million.

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The roughly 7% increases to fire and general services’ budgets are drawn in large part from jumps in pay and benefits. 

Capital projects

The proposed capital project budget is above $53 million, more than doubling the current figure.

Capital funding includes nearly $3.5 million for the design phase of a new police station, retrofitting and expanding the former Concord Group Building off North State Street that the city bought earlier this year. If the Council moves ahead with planned renovations and sizeable additions for the new station, the city estimates the entire project would cost taxpayers $41.5 million, the majority of that hitting the 2026 budget. 

Earlier this year, the city received a grant from the federal government to build a new airport terminal, which at the time was expected to be paid for without a major bond, according to city reports. City administration now proposes to put $1.4 million towards the project.

Beyond the station and airport, most of the capital project increases, more than $24 million, are related to the Heights water projects, while funding for a new clubhouse at Beaver Meadow Golf Course and money for Memorial Field are notably absent from the budget.

The City Council sent the clubhouse back to a committee at the end of last year to consider a wider array of options beyond a rebuild. But the committee hasn’t met in months as city staff work with engineers to develop those options, and the $10.3 million clubhouse appropriation has loitered on the council’s monthly agendas as “unfinished business” since it was proposed last year. The budget includes $900,000 to replace the parking lot in the meantime. 

A rehabilitation of the Memorial Field complex that the city and school district are jointly planning currently lacks a specific price estimate and timeline but is expected in the next few years. 

Retention initiatives

Also left out of Aspell’s proposal is $1.4 million in retention initiatives for city employees. 

Over the course of the last year, city council approved several programs and influxes of cash trying to keep city staff on the payroll, including a weekly cash stipend for winter plow drivers and half a million dollars for increased overtime pay and retention bonuses for police.

Those efforts have had measured success, according to city leaders. While police turnover has decreased, the department continues to face a critical staffing shortage and struggles to recruit new officers, as noted in a finance report from the city manager’s office to City Council this week. The human resources director reported last month that the city was able to hire more plow drivers this winter, while also questioning whether they will be able to retain them long-term, as private sector work can be more lucrative but typically offers fewer benefits. 

Retention of employees is among both the city council’s and key city departments’ expressed priorities. Aspell left those initiatives out of his budget proposal, he wrote in his preview letter, because they are “a ‘one time’ bridge towards the completion of the Class and Compensation Study that will soon be underway.” The council approved funding for the study a year ago. It is expected to take eighteen months once it begins, according to Aspell. 

While there is a regular City Council meeting Monday night, councilors will get their first formal budget presentation on Thursday and meetings will continue throughout the next few weeks, with a final budget vote scheduled for early June.