To The Daily Sun,
A recent letter to The Sun observed that the Belknap County Delegation has made cuts in the budget proposed by the county commissioners each of the last four years. Given the delegation has been repeatedly re-elected, it should be observed the majority of the voting public supports their action. The position of past delegations has been that the spending of the county should be held in line with population growth plus inflation.
Last year the delegation increased the county appropriation about 15 percent largely in recognition of the changes implicit in opening a new corrections facility. That inherited decision required additional people to safely operate an additional standalone building. It also reflects additional facilities and debt service costs.
The budgetary process by statute gives responsibility for appropriation to the delegation. It gives responsibility for administering the budget to the county commission. The commission is tasked with budget preparation and it is expected to defend its proposal. To the extent they successfully make their case, the delegation does appropriate funding for their proposals.
In recent history no county budget has been reduced below the actual spending level of the previous year. The assertions of draconian budget cutting are nothing more than political posturing. To some any reduction in the rate of increase is perceived as an actual cut, an assertion which is false on its face.
In the past two years the county commissioners proposed budgets requested increases of 9+ percent and 33+ percent, respectively, for a total increase in proposed budget of 42+ percent. The delegation did not concur with the commissioners’ proposal as presented. It appropriated about half of the requested increase. It did so after careful consideration of the information prepared and presented by the commission. Interestingly, each year there were operational savings meaning the actual spending was less than the amount appropriated.
One commissioner persists in espousing the “me too” school of budgeting. He asserts that all the other counties spend more than we do. To him, that alone, is sufficient reason to spend more. Comparative budgeting is not a methodology taught in any business school. It is not used in any successful business. It is not used in government either. It is simply not a reason justifying any appropriation, rather, it is irresponsibly advocating for governmental waste. Belknap County has never endorsed such an approach to government nor should it. We have been blessed with individuals willing to donate their time to ensure taxpayers get as much return for their support as possible.
An allegation of budgetary incompetence has been made by a member of the county commission based on a quote. The bond rating service did not make the allegation; the commissioner did. The bond rating service recognizes the county is not extracting from property tax payers as much as it might. Some of us actually think that is a good thing. The bond rating service observes that the county could raise taxes to build reserves but has made a conscious decision not to do so. The reason the delegation has made the decision is that they understand that when Belknap County property tax rates are kept low it leaves more money in the hands of the county residents, it helps the Laconia tax cap and it leaves money on the table for support of education. It is a considered decision not made lightly.
The county commissioner puts words into the mouth of the bond rating agency when he asserts their report told the world of investors that the county is unwilling to invest in itself. The report says nothing of the sort. The real question for the county commissioners is: Why would the county commission put in place a policy to address the reserve situation and then not follow it? Why has the county commission had a policy in place for years and never funded it in their budget? What would be the position of the commissioners be if a county employee violated county policy in the execution of their job?
County budgets are not investments in the future. County budgets are current period appropriations for current period expenditures. Very little county spending is or should be capital expenditures. The largest and fastest growing expenditure in the county budget is wages and benefits. When we appropriate monies for consumable goods and services it is not investment. It is an expense. The county budget is grossly misunderstood when it is called an investment. “Me too” budgeting based on the average of what others spend is envy, nothing more, nothing less.