Portsmouth City Solicitor Mike Jones, Fifth Ward City Councilman John Haas and Tony Hamilton of Portsmouth Firefighters Association Local 512, gathered in Jones’ office for the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding by the firefighters foregoing their scheduled 3 percent pay increase to help bring the city’s budget deficit under control. Haas took the opportunity to talk about the need for a city income tax increase.
“One of the things that is really important to show is that all of the city employees — the fire, the police, union and non-union are all really working together to cut expenses where we can — and to show the general public that we’re not just blowing money left and right, and that an income tax increase is really necessary to keep services at a level where it has been. And if there are additional items or things the public want us to do, it’s not going to be possible without an income tax increase.”
Haas said he believes the public will see the actions of the city workers attempting to help with the budget, and that will help voters decide to support the increase.
“I think it has been very enlightening dealing with the fire union, the police union, and AFSCME (American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees). They have all been very helpful, and worked with an eye toward what is best for the city. I feel like we’re all starting to row in the same direction finally.”
Hamilton agreed with Haas in his assessment of the need for an income tax increase.
“The last time the city of Portsmouth had an income tax increase, the postage stamp was 20 cents,” Hamilton said. “You can’t continue the services that you have with the same amount of money. We would love to, but we can’t. You have a safety issue there. You have to maintain a certain amount of people to continue the services you have. Without the money, you can’t do it. You’re going to lose services.”
Both Haas and Jones said work will be done on the wording of the legislation and presented to City Council in the near future.
Jones indicated the language for the tax increase proposal had to be ready by August to get onto the November ballot.
Portsmouth Mayor Jane Murray was, at press time, unavailable for comment on the idea of a proposed tax increase.
FRANK LEWIS can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232 or firstname.lastname@example.org