LONDONDERRY — Town officials are heading into budget season with economic unknowns ahead as the pandemic challenges continue.

It's also the beginning of a months-long process that will lead voters to a list of town budget requests and warrant articles next March.

And numbers will change as the weeks move forward.

A morning session on Nov. 14 started the process, with Town Manager Kevin Smith presenting some details on his proposed budget for fiscal year 2022, and also what the default budget would be if voters approved that number over proposed numbers.

Smith presented his early requested budget for fiscal year 2022, adding that with COVID-19 there are still many unknowns about how the town's fiscal health will look as per revenue sources and other economic factors.

Last year's amended general fund budget was $35.7 million. Smith's requested operating budget for fiscal year 2022 is $36.6 million. Smith's budget also proposes using the town's unassigned fund balance for partial funding of contributions to capital reserve funds, expendable and roadway maintenance trust funds and other special warrant articles that may face voters in March, all in an effort to keep the tax rate reduced.

"We are planning on a loss of revenue," Smith said at the recent morning workshop. "There are many unknowns and we (need to be) ready for it."

Smith also urged other departments to be wary of hits in the town's economic drivers, adding a proposed 2.5% reduction in budget lines could support the town during these challenging times.

There are some good signs happening at town hall, Smith said with car registrations and building permit numbers going up and helping give the town's revenue stream a boost.

Development continues to happen at Woodmont Commons and at sites on Pettengill Road, Smith said.

Along with Smith's presentation, other departments gave information and updates on their services, their budget wish list and how they are faring through the pandemic.

Police Capt. Christopher Gandia, the department's commander at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, said the airport serves as a "different type of community" within the Londonderry community.

Gandia said the airport has been impacted by the virus, with fewer flights, and also many unknowns about what's ahead.

Gandia noted that pre-COVID, the airport may have seen flight traffic of about 2,500 passengers per day, but now there is a two-thirds drop in numbers.

Police Lt. Jason Teufel gave the overall police department budget presentation, saying for fiscal year 2022, the department will operate on a 0-based budget with no increases except for what is contractually required under law.

"For the last 25 years, the police department has met or exceeded the needs of the town," he said.

And in the spring when the coronavirus took hold and calls for service lessened, Teufel said the call number is increasing again.

That's the same in the fire department, Chief Darren O'Brien said.

The budget will continue to be a work in progress in the weeks ahead until the public is presented with the proposed numbers. Upcoming meetings are as follows:

Monday, Dec. 7, Town Council budget workshop/public hearing; Thursday, Dec. 21, Town Council preliminary warrant approval; Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, second public hearing, adoption of fiscal year 2022 budget and final vote on warrant; Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021, annual deliberative session, Tuesday, March 9, 2021, annual Town Meeting with voting at the polls at Londonderry High School gymnasium. 

Workshops are scheduled to continue in the months ahead as budget numbers get finalized prior to appearing on the ballot next March. Adjustments and numbers can change.

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