MERRIMACK – Councilor Mike Malzone is helping lead a drive to add a spending and tax cap amendment to the town charter.
Malzone and New Hampshire Advantage Coalition representative Matt Murphy filed the petition paperwork yesterday. At least 600 signatures must be collected for the item to appear on the ballot.
NHAC has more than 3,000 members trying to get spending and tax-related initiatives on ballots throughout the state. The group worked with Merrimack last year to get a property tax cap on the ballot; however, not enough signatures were collected prior to local and state elections.
“We’re not pushing this onto any community,” NHAC Chairman Michael Biundo said. “What we look for is motivated taxpayers within a community who want to get it done. You get a good group of taxpayers in the community that feel taxes and spending are too high, and these spending caps have proven to pass and pass overwhelmingly.”
He said several municipalities have already adopted spending caps, including Derry, Franklin, Laconia, Nashua and Dover. The most recent community to join the list is Rochester, which Merrimack’s amendment mimics. Manchester and Concord residents will have an opportunity to cast votes on spending caps in November, according to Biundo.
Spending caps permit the town to increase spending annually, but only by an amount in line with cost-of-living estimates, or the rate of inflation, Biundo said. In the event of an emergency, three-fifths of the town council could approve additional spending for that fiscal year’s budget.
Malzone, the lead petitioner in Merrimack, will be assisted by fellow petition committee members and residents Richard and Shannon Barnes, Steve MacDonald, and Dan Dwyer.
Dwyer, who serves on the town’s economic development citizen advisory committee, said he was disappointed the spending cap item didn’t make it on the November ballot last year. He said it would have “passed overwhelmingly.”
“I know it would have won major,” he said. “Because of the economy, everyone was (angry) at the same time come that election and all we needed was 600 signatures and we just dropped the ball.”
Dwyer said a tax cap helps property owners by not only by reducing increases on property taxes based on cost-of-living estimates, but also during the revaluation process because it wouldn’t allow the town to raise taxes due to higher valuations.
Biundo said Merrimack residents got in touch with him to see if the petition effort could be renewed after the town’s tax rate hit $4.23 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
Between the town and school operating budgets, taxes are up a total of 7.4 percent from last year, according to property tax data provided by the Department of Revenue Administration.
To make it onto the town’s ballot in April, Biundo said the petition committee would have to submit signatures in mid- to late February.