Belmont Selectboard concerned about lack of oversight for Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid budget

BELMONT — Selectmen have agreed to sign a contract with Lakes Regional Mutual Fire Aid for dispatch services for the Fire Department but said in their meeting last week that they would like to see more oversight of the agency's budget preparation.

Each member agency or community, said Selectman Jon Pike, has one vote regardless of the size of the population and his primary concern was how the LRMFA develops its budget. He said Belmont pays about 6 percent of the total budget.

Pike said every other outside agencies who requests money from the town of Belmont comes before the Board of Selectmen, and he thinks that since the bill for the Belknap County communities covered by LRMFA no longer goes through the county budget process, he wants them to approach the town directly.

"We can no longer go to the county to ask questions about the budget," Pike said.

In 2013, the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid budget was $554,000 for the 11 Belknap County communities. That bill was apportioned to each individual county tax payer based on equalized taxable property value and included in the county portion of an annual tax bill.

Beginning in 2014, the LRMFA budget, which is about the same as last year, is being being billed directly to each of the 36 member communities — including the 11 communities in Belknap County.

Belmont's portion of the LRMFA budget will increase from what would have been $34,381 to $52,671 — a difference of $18,290. The difference is because the agency allocates expenses to member communities based on a formula that taxes both property value and population into account, not just property value. Because Belmont has little lakefront property to tax, is ratio of population to property value is relatively high for the region.

Pike said he supports Belmont's participation in Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid and believes the the agency provides excellent services to the town. But as a steward of Belmont's tax dollars, he said he believes there should be more oversight on the part of the selectmen and the Budget Committee on its budget.

Selectboard Chair Ron Cormier said he is concerned that in future years, the LRMFA will simply present a budget with no set parameters for how the budget is developed.

Selectmen agreed that in the near future someone from the LRMFA should be asked to come to a selectman's meeting to discuss future budget preparation.