Commissioner questions county budget cuts, given minimal tax impact

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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Belmont mobile home destroyed in blaze

BELMONT — A mobile home was destroyed by a fast-moving fire at 5 Ham Ave. late Wednesday night.

Fire officials said they were called to the small mobile home park off Route 106 for a fully involved mobile home at 11:31 p.m. Firefighters from Belmont and Gilford mounted a defensive attack, extinguished the fire and were gone at 1:22 a.m. Thursday.

Officials said someone lived in the mobile home but said no one was injured in the blaze. Sand trucks from the Belmont DPW were on hand to sand the area because of icing.

– Gail Ober

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Belknap County reverses some proposed cuts to agencies

By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — After an outcry at proposed cuts, the Belknap County Convention members have restored some funding to outside agencies which a subcomittee had recommended cutting, along with reducing the overall proposed budget on Tuesday.
The Belknap County Economic Development Committee, whose $75,000 request had been cut to zero by the subcommittee, saw $60,000 of its request restored.

Genesis Behavioral Health, which had also been zeroed out, saw $30,000 of its $34,200 request restored.
UNH Cooperative Extension Service, which had requested $152,217 and had been cut to $116,703, was funded at $145,000.
The Belknap County Conservation District, which had requested $92,400 and was cut to $49,160, was funded at $80,000.
The Community Action program, which had requested $86,905 and had been cut to $54,905 was funded at $60,000.
Greater Lakes Region Child Advocacy saw its $11,000 request cut by 5 percent to $10,450.
Court Appointed Special Advocates, whose $5,000 request had been denied, was placed in the budget as a $1 line item.
County Commissioners proposed a $27,235,571 budget which the convention reduced to $27,109,620 earlier this week. The convention also reduced the amount to be raised by taxes from $13,837,714 in the commission's proposed budget to $12,956,223 by voting to increase the amount of the fund balance used to reduce taxes from the $1,775,397 proposed by the commission to $2,380,000.
The convention also increased the anticipated revenue line for the Belknap County Home by $150,000 when it met Tuesday night.
The Belknap County Convention will hold a public hearing on the 2016 budget on Monday, Feb. 22, at 6 p.m. at the Belknap County complex.

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