By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Two of the three Belknap County Commissioners Wednesday morning criticized the Belknap County Delegation's decision on Tuesday night to use an additional $605,000 from the county's fund balance in order to reduce taxes.
Commissioner Hunter Taylor, who pointed out that the cut amounts to about $15 for the average property taxpayer in the county, said that the money was "not wisely spent." Citing a sharp increase in heroin-related deaths, he suggested that the money could have been used instead to help deal with the drug problem.
"There are crises in our county. Instead of doing something constructive, the delegation decided to give $15 in tax relief," said Taylor, who also criticized lawmakers for not fully funding requests from outside agencies as "extraordinarily shortsighted."
He said that outside agencies like the Community Action Program, whose funding was cut from $86,905 to $60,000, provide vital services such as Meals on Wheels, rural transportation and senior companion programs, which enable elderly residents to remain in their homes rather than moving into nursing homes, and this helps save the county money.
Taylor also pointed out that the roof at the Belknap County Nursing Home has failed and that it will cost at least $550,000 to fix it, which he said would have been a wise use of the money which went to tax relief.
Commission Chairman David DeVoy (R-Sanbornton), who tried unsuccessfully Tuesday night to persuade the legislators to apply the $605,000 to pay for replacing the nursing home roof, said that the tax relief is only temporary as the county will now likely have to float a $550,000 bond issue to pay for roof repairs, which also cost $190,000 in interest for a 20-year bond.
Following DeVoy's Tuesday night presentation on the roof project, Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) questioned DeVoy's numbers on the bond, maintaining that it didn't need to be a 20-year bond and that a bond might not even be necessary as the county might be able to include the roof in its maintenance budget and pay for it all in one year.
The delegation approved a budget Tuesday night which reduces the amount to be raised by taxes by $873,374 from the budget proposed by Commissioners, with the bulk of that decrease coming from the use of an additional $605,000 from the county's fund balance to pay existing debt.
The fund balance, which some legislators refer to as the county's "rainy day fund," had been projected at $3.7 million in last year's budget but came in at $4.3 million at the end of the year. Legislators voted to increase the amount used to reduce property taxes from the $1.775 million recommended by the commissioners to $2,380,000.
The fund balance is made up of appropriated funds which are not spent and unanticipated funds which exceed estimates, which DeVoy said happened last year when the nursing home received nearly $1 million above estimates. But he said there is no guarantee that will happen again and said the county should look to the future and manage its fund balance wisely,
But Rep. Brian Gallagher (R-Sanbornton), who led the move to provide tax relief for county taxpayers and is a member of the House Finance Committee, told legislators Tuesday night that state revenues are running $40 million above estimates and that prospects good that there will be no cuts in funds going to county nursing homes.
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