To The Daily Sun,
In a recent disturbing turn of events, the Belknap County delegation voted to replace Sean Sullivan, current chair of the Gunstock Area Commission (which, along with Gunstock management, controls the day-to-day operations of Gunstock) with former state Rep. Brian Gallagher. The decision was disturbing on several fronts, including that a highly regarded commissioner with a proven track record of responsible decision-making was denied another term in favor of a politician with a track record of fiscal irresponsibility. Additional disturbing aspects of the hearing were Mr. Gallagher's blatant dishonesty about his past actions, and the current Delegation chairman’s refusal to allow public comment, including from a sitting county commissioner, a sitting Gunstock commissioner, and several former Gunstock commissioners.
During the delegation’s discussions prior to the vote, former delegation Chairman Frank Tilton argued in favor of Sean Sullivan, pointing out that Mr. Gallagher (while a member of the delegation) had been instrumental in causing the downhill slide of the county reserve fund that the county faces today. In 2016, Mr. Gallagher spearheaded a move by a majority of the delegation to increase the amount of reserves to be taken out and given to taxpayers as “tax relief” from $1.775 million to $2.38 million. In his comments at the recent hearing, Mr. Tilton stressed that Gunstock, like the county, needed adequate reserves to guard against unexpected shortfalls. Gunstock’s need for substantial reserves is obviously compounded by being an operation greatly affected by weather uncertainties. With both the county and Gunstock, if the reserves are inadequate the taxpayers ultimately bear the burden.
Being offered by the delegation chair the opportunity to respond to Mr. Tilton’s criticisms, Mr. Gallagher claimed that his call for increased use of county reserves was not to decrease taxes but rather to pay off old long-term debt service being financed by the taxpayers. A review of delegation history shows this statement to be untrue. As two of the County Commissioners who were there and opposed the finance action of Mr. Gallagher that is in question, we wish to make the record clear as to what in fact took took place and the impact of the action in question.
In fact, at a Feb. 16, 2016, delegation meeting, Mr. Gallagher personally moved to increase the budget line in question (for appropriation of money to be removed from reserves and applied to taxpayer relief) by $605,000 (from $1,775,000 to $2,380,000). Later in 2016, when Mr. Gallagher (as clerk of the delegation) certified the specifics of the actual 2016 budgetary appropriation to the New Hampshire Department of Revenue, the $605,000 was clearly part of the $2,380,000 shown on the line entitled “FUND BALANCE TO REDUCE TAXES”. Perhaps even more tellingly, during his later unsuccessful run for state Senate, Mr. Gallagher’s campaign website featured his claim that he was responsible for a reduction in county taxes that year, clearly referring to the $605,000.
Any possibility that Mr. Gallagher’s claim that the reserve funds were used to “pay off” old long-term debt is removed by the MS-42 filed for the county a year later for the 2017 budget year. Line 4711 of that certification by the delegation (of its appropriation for 2017) shows that $198,608 was appropriated for payment of long-term debt. Clearly the debt had not been paid off by use of the $605,000 from reserve as claimed by Mr. Gallagher. Ironically, that same old debt service has still not been paid off; the final payment of $98,000 is due in 2018.
Anyone questioning the importance of maintaining adequate reserves need only look at the situation facing Belknap County in 2018 with clearly inadequate reserves. This problem was anticipated and addressed by County Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy at the Feb. 22, 2016, budget meeting, when he urged the delegation to hold onto the $605,000 rather than following Mr. Gallagher’s wish to use it to reduce taxes. It was already well known that the county complex needed a new roof with an anticipated cost of over $500,000. Mr. DeVoy recommended postponing the decision about the $605,000 until after completion of the new Community Corrections Center, when the wisdom of various alternatives would become clearer. If the center was completed under the $8 million approved by the convention, then the roof cost could be included in the bond approved for the center as long-term debt, or the ultimate bond could be for less than the approved $8 million and the roof replacement could be paid out of reserves, which would be sufficient if the $605,000 remained.
The current possibilities regarding the roof are much less favorable than anticipated in 2016. Belknap County will end 2017 with a dangerously low reserve fund, most likely well under $1 million. Fortunately, the corrections center was completed under budget, and the delegation has already approved adding the roof cost to the new long-term debt. County taxpayers will be paying for this indebtedness over the next 20 to 25 years.
In addition to the new long-term debt, the county faces other costs which will inevitably result in increased taxes. The cost of many county operations has increased, often as a result of factors outside the county’s control (especially regarding health insurance costs). Reserve funds are not available to soften the county tax increases. It is still true that the county portion of a property tax bill is only a small portion (5 percent to 10 percent) of the total bill, but wiser decisions could have avoided the current problem. The “Gallagher tax cut” of 2016, which saved the average taxpayer $12 a year, will become the “Gallagher tax spike” of 2018. The untruthfulness of Mr. Gallagher statements during his pitch to become a Gunstock Commissioner shows that even he now recognizes the harm he caused; otherwise, there would have been no reason to mislead as to how the $605,000 was spent. Let us all hope that he has learned a lesson, and that in his new role as Gunstock commissioner he will be more fiscally responsible, recognizing that saving a dollar today that costs five in the near future is not the way to manage Gunstock, any more than it was the way to manage the county.
Dave DeVoy, Sanbornton
Hunter Taylor, Alton
- Written by Mike Mortensen
- Category: Letters
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