A dozen NH mayors meet in Manchester to discuss common issues

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Mar. 25—A dozen mayors from across New Hampshire descended on Manchester Monday for a bipartisan discussion on a wide range of topics including housing, homelessness and education funding.

Manchester Mayor Jay Ruais hosted the "Mayoral Summit" at the Greater Manchester Chamber offices on Hanover Street.

Ruais was joined by mayors Jay Kahn of Keene, Jim Donchess of Nashua, Byron Champlin of Concord, Paul Callaghan of Rochester, Matt Gerding of Somersworth, Dale Girard of Claremont, Timothy McNamara of Lebanon, Desiree McLauglin of Franklin, Bob Carrier of Dover, Andrew Hosmer, of Laconia, and Deaglan McEachern of Portsmouth.

"I was thrilled to convene a meeting today with 12 New Hampshire mayors for the first of our quarterly meetings," Ruais said in a statement. "We covered a lot of great ground about how we can work together to collaborate, advocate and advance issues of mutual importance to our municipalities. We discussed a host of topics such as homelessness, bail reform, education and affordable housing among others. I look forward to continuing our discussions and relationship building while identifying solutions to the challenges we are all confronting."

The hour-long summit was held behind closed doors, though all 12 mayors took part in a press conference after the session wrapped.

The mayors have been meeting since 2020, with the majority of the summits held via Zoom. Only one other session convened in person, with officials gathering in Concord.

Monday marked the first time Manchester played host.

Asked if the group solved all of New Hampshire's problems, Ruais laughed and said they did, "and it only took about 45 minutes."

"I think this was a fantastic opportunity following the election in November to have the chance to get all of us together in a room," Ruais said. "We represent over half a million people across the state of New Hampshire. We'd love to get together quarterly and have these meetings."

Portsmouth Mayor McEachern talked on the issue of housing, saying it's "no surprise" the price of housing is higher in his city. He said between 2010 and 2020, Portsmouth built about 80 units a year, and from 2020 to now that number jumped to about 400-500 units a year.

"So it's dramatically increased, the amount — now how do we make sure that parts of those are affordable?" McEachern said. "We're trying to figure out ways that we can tap into the market to make sure that we are accounting for those below market rate housing options as well."

"We also talked about the range of housing — not all housing is for everyone," Lebanon Mayor McNamara said. "One of the things we're experiencing in Lebanon is we have a lot of market rate apartments, but individuals at some point in time would like to move into a home and that missing middle is where we're really focusing our efforts now."

Keene Mayor Kahn said municipal budgets are "really being challenged" by the unhoused.

"I think about the other cities since the end of the federal assistance programs and the moratorium on evictions, we're experiencing a real swell of unmet housing needs and the unhoused," Kahn said. "The burden of that falling on municipal budgets is substantial, and I think a number of us are facing severe budget challenges in our cities."

One topic that didn't come up during the summit? Sanctuary cities. State Senate Republicans passed a ban on sanctuary city policies earlier this month.

"It's interesting that it didn't come up here, I don't think any city or town is looking to become a sanctuary city," McEachern said. "I don't see a huge push at the moment. Most folks recognize that we need and are desperately in favor of legal immigration into New Hampshire — we need the workforce.

"I just don't see it as something that's come up at all at this roundtable, and I think that's kind of striking given that there has been so much time spent talking about it in Concord."

Nashua Mayor Donchess raised the issue of the state meeting its obligation to provide adequate education funding aid.

"Most of our property tax dollars go to schools," Donchess said. "So if the state were to help us more significantly in terms of school aid it would push property taxes down and really help everyone in the state of New Hampshire."

McEachern said most people in Portsmouth are afraid of losing the "community feel" of the city — the "shipyard Portsmouth, the air base Portsmouth."

"Inaction is also an action, and if we don't act on building more housing so we can continue to have that type of community feel that is economically diverse, that action is going to lead to everybody's worst fear," McEachern said. "A community that no longer reflects the tapestry of New Hampshire and just reflects folks that are able to pay that monthly rent or buy that condo. That's not really what I'm in public service for.

"I'm in it to make sure it's the same place that I grew up in, and that's a community that came out and learned how to pronounce my weird name."

"We're on the same page," Ruais said.