To The Daily Sun,
A majority of the Belknap County delegation has rejected the 2017 county budget proposed by the Board of County Commissioners and has passed a budget advanced by state Rep. Mark Abear and pushed by Delegation Chairman Herb Vadney, both of Meredith.
Even a cursory examination of the Abear-Vadney budget reveals that both its drafters and its supporters cared only about one thing. No matter what the needs of the county, no matter how small the dollar benefit to the taxpayers would be, they would not under any circumstance support a budget that increased by even the smallest amount the exact dollar amount raised from the taxpayers of Belknap County in 2016.
It did not matter to the majority that voted for the Abear-Vadney budget that the delegation had previously approved an $8 million bond for construction of the new Community Corrections Center and renovations to the old jail, knowing in advance of their approval that the expanded facility with the added Corrections Center would require an additional $650,000 in staffing and related costs.
Before they voted on the Abear-Vadney budget, they were told by the corrections superintendent that he could not recommend opening the new Community Corrections Center without the minimal new staffing of which the delegation had been previously advised. This fact failed to override their paramount goal. They have chosen to leave the new facility empty rather than to provide the funding they previously knew to be necessary for its operation.
Prior to their rejection of the commissioners' proposed budget, the delegation knew there had been three percent merit increases and one percent cost of living increases for county employees because the delegation had approved the cost items that included these increases in the four collective bargaining contracts that cover most county employees. They were aware that health insurance costs had gone up by 11.9 percent for 2017. They were aware that property and liability insurance had gone up by 12.3 percent. None of these factors mattered; all that was important was that the amount of money raised in taxes not increase by a penny.
Appropriations for the Sheriff's Department were reduced by $126,736. Amazingly, the delegation had previously gone over that part of the budget and voted to make a much smaller reduction. Before the later vote, no one from the delegation bothered to confer with the sheriff and ask him about the impact of the planned cut. Before the final vote, the sheriff requested to be heard and Chairman Vadney said he could speak briefly. The sheriff said the proposed cut would leave him with insufficient staffing for performance of the constitutional and statutory duties of his office. The only response he got was Representative Abear's cynical suggestion that the sheriff would just "have to be more efficient."
Another $150,000 was slashed from outside support agencies that have been delivering important services to the people of our county. The funding for Belknap County Conservation District and Community Action Program (the agency that provides Meals on Wheels and other important elder care services) was significantly cut. Belknap Economic Development Council and Genesis (mental health) were totally defunded. It is not the callousness of those votes that is so shocking, it is the mindlessness. The efforts and services provided by these agencies are likely to save the county money in the long run. But the group that chose the Abear-Vadney budget was not thinking of the long term; rather the focus was solely to get to their single-minded dollar number, no matter what.
Their defense is clearly that they are the protectors of the taxpayers of Belknap County. Are they really?
You decide. The first fact that should be addressed in deciding is the actual dollar amount produced in county taxes on an annual basis by each of the two budgets. To illustrate this fact I have used a property valued at $200,000, which is close to the mean value of residential properties in Belknap County. The actual annual county tax that would be produced by each budget on the hypothetical $200,000 property in each Belknap municipality would be as follows: Alton: commissioners budget $266 for the year—Abear-Vadney $250, Barnstead: commissioners $272—A-V $254, Belmont: commissioners $302—A-V $282, Center Harbor: commissioners $260—A-V $244, Gilford: commissioners $284—A-V $266, Gilmanton: $258—A-V $242, Laconia: commissioners $278—A-V $260, Meredith commissioners $284—A-V $266, New Hampton: commissioners $246—A-V $230, Sanbornton: $286—A-V $268 and Tilton: commissioners $270—A-V $252.
The actual annual savings on a $200,000 property realized by the Abear-Vadney budget, over the budget proposed by the commissioners, is set out below and to put that savings amount and the impact of county taxes in general in perspective, the annual savings amount is followed by the annual property tax bill for a $200,000 property using last years tax rates. Alton: $16 savings on an annual bill for $2,830 ($1.33 per month or less than a nickel a day), Barnstead: $18 savings on a total annual bill of $5,450, Belmont: $20 savings on $5,766, Center Harbor: $16 savings on $2,876, Gilford: $18 savings on $3,590, Gilmanton: $16 savings on $4,782, Laconia: $18 savings on $3,118, New Hampton: $16 savings on $3,598, Sanbornton: $18 on $4,726 and Tilton: $18 savings on $4,144.
As can be seen from these numbers, county taxes are a very small part of our local property tax. In fact, depending on which municipality your property is in, the county tax portion of the local property taxes runs between five percent and nine percent of the total local property tax bill.
Decide for yourself. Is the disruption in important services and the general chaos created worth the savings generated by the Abear-Vadney budget? Does that budget and its slashing cuts represent what we, the people of Belknap County, want?
The delegation has a meeting scheduled for the County Complex on March 28 at 6 p.m. I don't know whether the chair will allow the budget to be brought up. Hopefully, it will be reconsidered and revised to avoid the serious harms that would result from the Abear-Vadney budget.
Belknap County Commissioner-District 3