Some Belknap County Delegation members propose $1M cut to budget
By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners expressed strong opposition Tuesday night to a proposal being floated by several members of the Belknap County Delegation to cut the proposed $28 million county budget by over $1 million.
"You're asking the impossible," said County Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton). "The knife is not going to be in my hand. You guys are going to have to make that decision on what to cut," in response to a suggestion by Belknap County Delegation Chairman Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) that the delegation set a budget number and that commissioners then decide which line items should be cut.
DeVoy warned that the proposed cut would jeopardize plans to open a community corrections facility, which is bring built next to the current jail, this September.
Vadney insisted that the county has to look put for the taxpayers and "can't keep kicking these cans down the road." He suggested a budget of close to $27 million, adding that the county should use "the money which recently showed up" to make sure that the county remains solvent. He was referencing the $850,000 in additional operational savings which the commissioners announced the county had last week, after initially having only $250,000 in that line in the budget.
Mark Abear (R-Meredith) said that the $850,000 should be directed to deferred maintenance the county faces, such as new roof for the Belknap County Nursing Home, which will cost about $540,000.
He said that he is concerned about the declining fund balance for the county and said that the currently proposed budget increases taxes by about 7.5 percent. Abear said that, according to his calculations, every $130,000 used from the fund balance reduces taxes by 1 percent and that using $520,000 would reduce the projected tax increase to 3.5 percent.
Tim Lang (R-Sanbornton) said that he didn't think the delegation should give the commission a bottom-line budget without telling them where the cuts should come from.
DeVoy said that the crux of the problem is the additional $605,000 that the delegation used to reduce taxes last year. He said this year's taxes would only be up by 2 percent had that money been retained in the county fund balance.
Commissioners have proposed a $28,034,331 budget this year, which will see the amount to be raised by property taxes revert to the $13,837,174 raised in 2015, which is about $875,000 more than was raised last year. In order keep the increase to that level, the commissioners agreed to use $2,183,657 from the undesignated fund balance.
The proposed amount to be raised by taxes is 6.31 percent higher than last year's $12,963,440, a 6.74 decrease from 2015. The bulk of that decrease came in the form of using an additional $605,000 of fund balance to reduce taxes which the delegation adopted over objections by commissioners, raising the amount of the surplus used to reduce taxes to $2,380,000 last year.
The proposed budget numbers will change by the time the delegation meets next Tuesday as the commission will add some $136,000 to budget lines which department heads have asked for in recent weeks, as well as the $17,000 estimated impact of a contract with Teamsters Local 633 which the delegation approved Tuesday night.
During the discussion, Vadney said that "there's always some slop in a budget," which DeVoy denied, saying that the commission had worked very hard to develop a frugal but responsible budget.
Rep. Ray Howard, delegation vice chairman, proposed that the budget be set at $26.8 million, which he said represents an increase of about 4 percent over what actual spending was in 2016.
His proposal calls for cutting at least $220,000 in funding for outside agencies but other cuts were not specified.
DeVoy countered by saying that the county faces up $1 million in additional spending due to union contracts and health insurance, as well as funds for hiring four additional corrections officers as well as program providers at the county corrections facility when it opens in September. He said that all members of the delegation who voted for the $8 million bond issue in 2015 were aware that there would be additional costs for staffing.
He has proposed using the estimated $650,000 surplus from the bond issue to pay for replacing the roof at the Belknap County Nursing Home.
Also expressing support for reducing the proposed budget was Rep. Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont, who said that from his standpoint there are too many administrators in the county. Rep. Norm Silber (R-Gilford) said he won't support any increase in county taxes.
Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia) said that those who want to cut the budget should be specific about where they want to make budget cuts and said that it is important to look at what the people of Belknap County need and expect from county government. "This has to be about the people of the county, not the fund balance," said Huot.
Rep. Don Flanders (R-Laconia) said that he thinks the commissioners have produced a good budget that meets the needs of the people and which is one he can support.
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