After work sessions, 2014 county budget stands at +2.4%

LACONIA — In three days of workshops, the Belknap County Commission undertook what chairman John Thomas of Belmont called "the first cut" of the 2014 county budget, trimming the various department's requested appropriations by nearly $2.5-million.

County departments requested appropriations totaling $29,442,231, which the commissioners reduced to $27,013,237. The commissioners reduced proposed expenditures on capital projects by $2.1-million, from $2,260,000 to $160,000, $60,000 to replace windows at the Belknap County Superior Court and $100,000 for a surveillance system at the county complex.

County Administrator Debra Shackett said that the remainder of the cuts fell on discretionary items like travel, training, office supplies and the like, across all departments. "The commissioners went through line by line and back and forth," she said.

The budget includes a 1.6-percent cost-of-living adjustment and three-percent "step" increase for eligible employees. The commissioners also funded bonuses for unused sick days and length of service as well as the increase in the employer share of health insurance premiums, all of which are contractual obligations prescribed by the collective bargaining agreement negotiated with the union representing county employees. The Belknap County Convention struck funding for both bonuses and increased health insurance premiums from the 2013 budget, but the commission paid the bills anyway by shuffling monies within departmental budgets.

The total appropriations of $27-million represent an increase of $628,621, or 2.4-percent, over the current budget, but are $2.7-million, or 9.1-percent less than was budgeted in 2008 and $2.0-million, or 6.8-percvent less than was budgeted in 2009. Total appropriations in 2010, 2011 and 2012 were supplemented by federal funds distributed through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Thomas emphasized that the commission has not completed its recommended budget. "We've still got work to do," he said. "We will present a fair, economical and responsible budget."