LACONIA — The Belknap County Commissioners this week announced that while the $554,000 appropriation for the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid Association (LRMFAA) will be stripped from the 2014 county budget they recommend to the Belknap County Convention, they cannot ensure that the overall budget will be reduced by an equivalent amount.
The LRMFAA includes 36 municipalities. The 25 in Carroll, Grafton, Merrimack and Strafford counties are billed directly by the LRMFAA according to a formula consisting of a fixed charge along with factors for both total population and assessed valuation. Laconia and the 10 townships of Belknap County have not been billed directly by LRMFAA. Instead, their total share of its budget has been included in the county budget, apportioned among them based solely on their share of the total assessed property valuation of the county and paid through the county property tax. Next year the municipalities of Belknap County will also be billed directly based on the formula applied by the LRMFAA.
The commissioners responded to a letter from the Gilford selectmen seeking assurance that since the appropriation for the LRMFAA would not be included in the county budget, the total appropriations "will reflect this reduction so that all of the municipalities affected will be the beneficiary of a county tax savings to offset, in so much as possible, the municipal tax rate increases that will be necessary to fund LRMFAA operations." The selectmen acknowledged that other factors may affect county expenditures, but sought a commitment that the commissioners recognize the need to reduce the county tax rate by an amount "commensurate" with the increase in municipal tax rates.
In reply, the commissioners reminded the selectmen that when the municipalities of Belknap County are billed directly, Gilford is one of the four whose contribution to the LRMFAA's budget will shrink. They went on to say that "to ensure that the entire county budget will be level funded and then further reduced by more than half a million dollars, would be irresponsible."
The commissioners note that county appropriations have not risen since 2008 and fell significantly this year. As a result, they continued, the county has been able to main or reduce the tax burden for the past five years. "We would certainly like to continue that record," the commissioners declared, but explained that the costs of the services the county is required to provide, most of which are increasing. have yet to be determined.
When the municipalities of Belknap County are billed directly by the LRMFAA their relative shares of the agency's budget will change. This year the the 11 municipalities together paid $554,037, distributed as follows: Alton $81,048, Barnstead $27,350, Belmont $34,381, Center Harbor $22,457, Gilford $88,631, Gilmanton $25,680, Laconia $106,731, Meredith $100,545, New Hampton $17,528, Sanbornton $22,072 and Tilton $27,614.
Billed directly, according to the formula applied by the LRMFAA, four towns — all with extensive waterfront — would have paid less while Laconia and six towns would have paid more. The assessment to Alton would have been reduced by $18,922, to Center Harbor by $4,721, to Gilford by $14,326 and to Meredith by $25,445. On the other hand, the assessment to Laconia would have risen by $17,606, to Barnstead by $9,206, to Belmont by $18,290, to Gilmanton by $6,237, to New Hampton by $3,372, to Sanbornton by $4,527 and to Tilton by $4,176.