LACONIA — The Belknap County Commissioners, two of whom will be replaced in January, anticipate recommending a budget of approximately $27 million for 2015 to the Belknap County Convention next month. The budget would represent increases in proposed expenditures of about 5 percent, and in the amount to be raised by property taxes of 10 percent.
"Ten percent is is the most I'll go," said Commissioner Steve Nedeau of Meredith, the lone returning incumbent among the three commissioners. "If we can't, we can't." Nedeau suggested that greater expenditures would be required to ensure the county services and to fund necessary capital purchases and projects, but questioned how the newly elected county commissioners and convention would respond.
Commissioners John Thomas, a Belmont Republican, and Ed Philpot, a Laconia Democrat will be succeeded by Republicans Richard Burchell of Gilmanton and David DeVoy of Sanbornton in the new year. As a member of the convention, Burchell was a mainstay of the majority that trimmed nearly a $1 million from the 2014 budget recommended by the commission. DeVoy, who has followed county government closely for the past two years, has often endorsed the approach taken by the convention. Both were informed of the dates and times of the budget workshops, but neither has attended.
Moreover, Republicans will hold all 18 seats on the Belknap County Convention after making a clean sweep at the polls earlier this month. Among the 18 Republican representatives, seven are returning incumbents, nine are freshman, and two are former lawmakers. Four — Dennis Fields of Sanbornton, Dave Russell of Gilmanton, and Frank Tilton and Don Flanders, both of Laconia -- have served more than three terms in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
The budget will be presented to the newly elected convention at its organizational meeting on Dec. 8. The incoming commissioners take office in January.
Yesterday Commissioners Thomas and Nedeau made some adjustments to projected revenues from sources other than taxes cut more than $2 million from their initial budget. Capital projects, including funding for schematic designs of a new county jail and improvements to the existing HVAC system at the jail, and personnel costs, represented the lion's share of the cuts.
At the same time, the commissioners included a 1.4 percent cost-of-living allowance (COLA) for county employees in their budget. In addition, they chose to fund the purchase of four cruisers for the Sheriff's Department on the advice of Sheriff Craig Wiggin, who advised them that the alternative would be to increase funding for vehicle maintenance since the fleet would include a number of cruisers with 200,000 miles on the clock. The commissioners also added the purchase of a van for the Nursing Home to replace the antiquated bus.
At the end of the day, the total expenditures stood at $ 27.5 million, an increase of 7.4 percent, and the tax commitment at $15.4 million, an increase of 13 percent. Both Thomas and Nedeau aim to pare the budget by at least another $400,000 before presenting their recommendations to the convention next month.
Nedeau pointed out that the increase in the operating budget reflects the need to begin compensating for six years of austerity. Between 2008 and 2013 the operating budget rose by $212,379 from $26.2 million to $26.4 million, an increase of 0.8 percent, before shrinking by $787,753, or 3 percent, this year. During the same period, the amount to be raised by property taxes decreased by $386,793, or 2.7 percent, dropping by $221,802 this year.
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