Depleted reserves

County taxes could jump with little to cushion rate

LACONIA — Belknap County’s fund balance, which has been used in recent years to reduce the amount to be raised by taxes, has shrunk to the point that it won’t be able to shield residents from either a jump in property tax rates or a reduction of services.
The full extent of its decline won’t be known with certainty until the Belknap County Commission completes work on the proposed budget it will submit next month to the Belknap County Delegation.
But commissioners working on the budget have indicated it is highly unlikely they will propose using any of the fund balance to reduce property taxes in next year’s budget.
“Right now we’re not looking at any fund balance being used at all,” said Belknap County Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton). He said that the commissioners expect less than $1 million in the account and that doesn’t include the writing off of uncollectible debts in the Belknap County Nursing Home, which are still being tabulated.
The fund balance is made up of county revenue which exceeds the amount budgeted and operational savings from spending less than the anticipated amount in the various county departments.
The fund balance, which stood at $6.991 million in 2006 and peaked at $8.234 million in 2011, has been dropping ever since. As of Jan. 1, 2017, it was $3.17 million and had been projected earlier this year to drop to $984,826 by the end of the year.
This year’s $27.44 million county budget, which was approved by the delegation over the objection of the commission, projected using $1,675,853 from the fund balance in order to hold the line on the amount to be raised by taxes at $12,963,440, the same as in 2016.
But the amount used from the fund balance jumped to over $2.2 million, with more than half that increase coming from a $290,810 shortfall in revenue that the delegation had projected would come to the county from the state in retirement system contributions that never materialized. The delegation also approved $256,862 in supplemental appropriations, $135,862 of which filled a gap in the Health and Human Services spending caused by a recalculation by the state of the county’s share of the payments for the care of the elderly in private nursing homes.
The other supplemental appropriations were for $95,000 for the Belknap County House of Corrections to hire four corrections workers deemed necessary for opening the new $7.4 million Community Corrections Center and $26,000 for the Sheriff’s Department, which had seen its budget cut by over $126,000.
When the delegation approved the supplemental funds but decided to use the fund balance rather than additional taxes to pay for them, Belknap County Commissioner Glen Waring (R-Gilmanton) said that while taxes won’t increase this year, the result of the delegation’s action was to create a $2.2 million problem next year due to the decline in the fund balance.
“We’re kicking a bigger can down the road, which will come back to bite us all,” said Waring at that time.
Commissioner DeVoy said the fund balance has been used for years by the county delegation to create an artificially low tax rate but those days are now over. Two years ago, when the county delegation increased the amount to be used from the fund balance from $1,775,000 to $2,380,000 in order to reduce county taxes, DeVoy criticized the move as unsustainable and said it was a political gimmick. He had maintained that the funds should have been used to put a new roof on the Belknap County complex.
Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) warned of the dangers of depleting the county’s fund balance and underfunding county government obligations. Two years ago, Carroll County had completely depleted its fund balance and had to seek an emergency loan in order to complete its fiscal year.
He said Belknap County taxes supporting county government are the lowest in the state, and points out that Carroll County, which has two-thirds as many residents as Belknap County, last year spent $31 million to support county government, more than $3 million more than Belknap County.
Taylor said 44 percent of the revenue raised by taxes by the county goes to the Health and Human Services budget account, which is the money the county pays to the state for the care of elderly in private nursing homes and which the county does not control.
Legislators have agreed that amount will be increasing in the near future as the county’s elderly population increases.
Rep. Norman Silber (R-Gilford) has advocated that the county privatize the county nursing home as way of saving money. But commissioners two years ago rejected that idea when it was proposed by former Commissioner Richard Burchell, who was defeated by Waring last year in the Republican primary.

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Gilford School District proposes spending less for 2018-19, would replace school roof

GILFORD — The Gilford School Board’s budget proposal for 2018-19 tackles big projects such as replacement of the roof on the middle school, yet comes in 0.9 percent lower than current-year spending.
School Administrative Unit 73 Superintendent Kirk Beitler said the Gilford School District will realize an estimated $851,517 in savings on health insurance through a combination of a 2 percent reduction in rates and having the teaching staff contribute an additional 2 percent toward their insurance premiums.
Overall, the budget shows more than $1 million in cost reductions from the 2017-18 budget, allowing the district to tackle the middle school roof, estimated at $335,000, as well as deferred maintenance of school buildings.
Overall, the proposed budget that goes to the school district budget committee on Nov. 21 stands at $26,237,939, down from $26,483,950 this year.
The interest on school bonds will be $49,000 lower next year than this year, Beitler said.
He said the decrease in health insurance costs takes into consideration the history of claims by the district. The 2 percent reduction is the guaranteed maximum amount the insurance pool provides for budgetary purposes, so the actual cost may be even less.
The first year of the teachers’ three-year collective bargaining agreement included no increase in the amount teachers contribute toward their health insurance premiums, but they pick up an additional 2 percent in 2018-19, with another increase in 2019-20.
The cost items included in the second year of the agreement will increase spending by $228,318, Beitler said.
In addition to the middle school roof, the building maintenance projects in the budget include refurbishment of the high school gymnasium. The ceiling has not been painted since the construction of the building in the 1970s, and the paint has chipped so it falls if struck by a ball. The ceiling also is dark, so after it is cleaned and scraped, it will be painted white to brighten up the gymnasium. Plans also call for sanding and refinishing the gym floor, repainting the lines and logo and sealing it.
The budget also calls for some interior and exterior painting at the elementary school, repair of the hydraulic system on the elevator at the high school, and curtains at the high school.
The district plans to replace several Chromebooks as part of its technology plan which aims to replace equipment on a five-year cycle. Some desktop computers also will be replaced, although Beitler says the district is moving away from them in favor of the Chromebooks.
“We still have a need for some desktops,” he said.
The budget committee will receive an overview of the proposal from the superintendent on Nov. 30, with a presentation on the calculation of a default budget, federal projects, food service, districtwide costs, and the maintenance budget. A review of the middle and high school budgets will take place on Dec. 7, and elementary, technology, special education, and revenues will be reviewed on Dec. 14.
Beitler expects to see some back-and-forth dialogue on the budget, saying he is sure there will be questions, but items such as the roof replacement have been in the capital improvement project plan, so it will not be a surprise to the budget committee.

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Ashland tax rate increases by 2 percent

ASHLAND — The New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration has set Ashland’s 2017 property tax rate at $24.90 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, an increase of 53 cents, or 2.17 percent, over the 2016 rate of $24.37.

That means the owner of a property assessed at $250,000 will have a tax bill of $6,225.
While the rate is higher than last year, it is 7 cents less than the 2015 tax rate, which was $24.97.
The municipal portion of the tax rate is $8.36, down 23 cents, or 2.68 percent, from the 2016 rate of $8.59. The 2015 rate was $8.61.
The county tax rate is $1.86, a 5.1 percent increase over the 2016 rate of $1.77. The 2015 rate was $1.75.
The state education tax rate is $2.26, a 6.6 percent decrease from 2016 when the rate was $2.42. The 2015 rate was $2.31.
The local education tax is $12.42, a 7.2 percent increase from the 2016 rate of $11.59. The 2015 rate was $12.30.
The town’s net assessed valuation this year is $232,836,807, an increase of $956,288 from last year’s value of $231,880,519.
Changes in the tax rate do not necessarily equate to changes in the homeowner’s tax bill. Changes in property values and homeowner exemptions also can affect what appears on the total tax bill.

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