By ROGER AMSDEN, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — There will be public input, but no additional public hearing on the Belknap County budget, which is now being finalized by the Belknap County Delegation.
County Delegation Chairman Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) said he will permit members of the public to speak during budget deliberations, which will be held starting at 6 tonight at the Belknap County Complex. The delegation is scheduled to meet on the budget again on Feb. 28 at 6 p.m.
Vadney said there is no state law which requires the county to hold a public hearing on the final budget and that it has already held a public hearing in December on the budget which was submitted b Belknap County Commissioners.
He made the statement at a meeting of the delegation's executive committee which was held Friday morning in order to approve for a second time a $10 million tax anticipation note for the county. The second meeting on the tax anticipation note was necessary in order to satisfy the requirement of seven days public notice for a meeting, which had not been met in January when the note was originally approved, as the delegation was under the impression that the relevant law applied to meetings of the delegation, but not the executive committee.
Members of the committee agreed with Vadney's assessment that a public hearing at this stage of the budget process is not needed, which stands in contrast to the approach used by former Delegation Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), who last year did not allow public input during the budget deliberations by delegation. But he did hold a public hearing on the final budget, which was attended by an overflow crowd, many of whom showed up to protest the proposed budget cuts to outside agencies, and saw several exchanges between members of the public and legislators.
County Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton), who attended the executive committee meeting, said he is hoping that that a tour of the Community Corrections facility which is under construction and is scheduled at 5 p.m. today will convince members of the delegation that the proposed $28 million county budget should not be cut by over $1 million, as has been suggested by some members of the delegation.
He has maintained that the cuts suggested by some delegation members are impossible and could leave the county without enough money to staff the corrections facility.
He says 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 and that it is imperative that the budget not be cut.
Vadney, who said at the time that the bond issue was passed that the county should look at cuts in other departments to offset the increased personnel costs in the Corrections Department, has expressed support for an idea put forth by Rep. Ray Howard, delegation vice chairman, 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.
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 from 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 have since changed as the commission has added 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 recently.
Members of the delegation have been critical of the budget prepared by commissioners, noting that commissioners only recently announced $850,000 in additional operational savings in 2016, after initially having only $250,000 in that line in the budget.
Commissioners have maintained that they have presented a frugal budget and that Belknap County taxpayers pay the lowest amount in property taxes to the county of any of the comparable sized counties in the state.
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