County will submit 'bare bones' budget that increases tax by 4%

LACONIA — After making a second round of cuts on Monday, the Belknap County Commission will recommend a budget of $26,570,997 for 2014 when it meets this morning. The budget represents an increase appropriations of $182,030 or 0.7 percent and an increase in the amount to be raised by property taxes of $555,892 or 4 percent.

"We chopped like hell," said Commissioner John Thomas of Belmont, who chairs the commission. "This is pretty much a bare bones budget. We did all we could without laying people off and we will do anything not to lay people off in this economy. " But, anticipating another uphill struggle to win approval of the budget from the Belknap County Convention, Thomas said "nothing will be enough for them."

The total appropriation recommended by the commission is $3.2 million, or 10.6 percent, less than in 2008, while the amount to be raised by taxes is $173,450, or 1.2 percent, more than in 2008.

Earlier this month the commission pared nearly $2.5 million from the appropriations requested by county departments to reach a budget of $27,0113,237 and this week trimmed another $442,240 to limit the increase to less than 1 percent. The commissioners decided to forego creating three new positions in the Department of Corrections at a cost of $227,000 and eliminated two vacant positions at the county nursing home to spare another $108,500. The replacement of windows at the Belknap County Superior Court at $60,000 and two compressors for the HVAC system at the county complex at $16,000 were shelved. The information technology budget was cut by $15,000 and the maintenance budget by $10,000 while foregoing two television sets for the nursing home saved $2,000.

Thomas said the commission will recommend spending $100,000 for a surveillance system at the county complex, which is the only significant capital project left in the budget.

The budget includes a 1.6-percent cost-of-living raise 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 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.

"Now this will be convention's budget and their responsibility," said Thomas. "We have given them a bare bones budget to pay for what we thought the county needed."