By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners say many of the increases in this year’s proposed $29,055,233 budget are already “baked in the cake” by previous actions of the Belknap County Delegation.
The budget increases spending by $1.3 million, a 4.7 percent increase, but county taxes are estimated to rise by $4.3 million, an increase of 33.68 percent, because there is less money a fund that could be tapped to reduce taxation.
In a letter to the editor published in Wednesday’s Laconia Daily Sun, commissioners say that the virtual depletion of the county’s fund balance automatically created a $2.2 million tax increase for 2018.
Commissioners also maintained that the increase in spending is created by a few significant items:
The delegation approved a new Community Corrections Center, which will now operate for its first full year. Including personnel and operational costs, the center will add $450,000 to county expenses.
The delegation-approved contracts with the four collective bargaining units, representing county employees, account for contractual obligations of about $700,000.
The county will now have to pay a full year of the New Hampshire Retirement System’s rate increase from last summer, which was set by the state legislature, adding an estimated $94,000.
The lack of money in the fund balance is estimated to increase borrowing costs by $144,000.
The legislature also increased the required payment to the state Department of Health and Human Services, accounting for a $194,000 increase.
Commissioners say that maintenance projects add $178,000, bringing total added costs to
$1,760,000, which, along with the $2.2 million no longer available from the fund balance, accounts for almost all of the tax increase.
Commissioners decided against using any money from the depleted county fund balance, which is projected to amount to only $770,000 at the close of the current fiscal year. The delegation had approved using $2.2 million from the fund balance to reduce taxes this year.
The proposed $29,055,233 budget will be the subject of a public hearing by the delegation on Friday, Dec. 8, at 6 p.m. at the Belknap County complex.
The delegation will begin its budget deliberations on Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. and has scheduled additional meetings for Dec. 13 and Dec. 18, also at 7 p.m.
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.
Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said that commissioners have done everything they can to hold the line on tax increases, but the fund balance 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.