By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The taxpayers of Belknap County are among the most affluent and bear the lightest county tax burden in comparison to their counterparts in the other five counties with populations of less than 100,000, according to County Commissioner Hunter Taylor.
As the Belknap County Convention whittled away at the 2016 county budget recommended by the Belknap County Commission, Taylor, who represents Alton, Gilford, Meredith and Center Harbor, prepared an extensive analysis to measure the impact of the proposed reductions in county expenditures for so-called outside agencies on the property tax rates of the city of Laconia and 10 towns.
Taylor said Thursday that his aim was to demonstrate that the reduced expenditures proposed by the convention provided minimal returns to county taxpayers while crippling programs and services that significantly benefit the county, its municipalities and its residents.
Taylor concluded that because the county tax represents only between 5 percent and 10 percent of total property tax bills, "even big cuts in county budget lines do not have a large impact," let alone what he called the "miniscule" reductions proposed by the convention. For a $200,000 residential property in the county, annual property tax bills range between $5,654 in Belmont and $2,854 in Alton while the county portion represents between $249 and $290 of the total.
Taylor pointed out that a proposal by a subcommittee of the convention to eliminate $224,014 in funding for outside agencies, like the Belknap Economic Council, Genesis Behavioral Health, Belknap County Conservation Commission and University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Service, would spare taxpayers owning a $200,000 home no more than $4 or $5 a year. The convention appears willing to restore most but not all the funding, rendering any savings to taxpayers even less — a mere $1.46 on average.
Taylor calculated that Belknap County spends $6.95 per capita on its outside agencies, the least of the six counties with populations of less than 100,000. Cheshire County spends $14.22, Coos County, the poorest of the six, spends $$12.81, Sullivan County spends $12.38, Grafton County spends $9.64 and Carroll County spends $9.29.
"We're at the bottom of the heap and headed in the wrong direction," Taylor said.
At the same time, Taylor compared the tax burden in Belknap County to that of Carroll, Cheshire, Coos, Grafton and Sullivan counties, which also have fewer that 100,000 residents. He found that the per capita tax burden in Belknap County of $229.45 was the lowest among the six counties. The per capita tax burden was $433.82 in Coos County, $368.55 in Carroll County, $307.86 in Cheshire County, $295.94 Sullivan County and $249.53 in Grafton County.
On the other hand, Taylor found that the median household income in Belknap County was $60,782, the highest among the six counties. The median home value in the county of $220,600 was topped only by the $225,000 of Carroll County. And Belknap County had the smallest share of its population living in poverty at 10 percent.
Taylor noted that Cheshire County has funded both a mental health court and a drug court and said that "Belknap County could do the same along with a drug treatment program without adding any significant burden to the county taxpayers."
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