Belknap County lawmakers brace for rocky budget processBy BEA LEWIS
Union Leader Correspondent
November 30. 2017 9:39PM
LACONIA — Local lawmakers are bracing for a tough budget season with the disclosure that the spending package being recommended by the Belknap County Commissioners would cause the amount to be raised by taxes to spike by $4.3 million over the prior year.
The proposed $29.05 million spending plan, which is up 4.7 percent, will be the subject of a Friday, Dec. 8, public budget hearing to be held at the Belknap County Complex at 6 p.m. The Belknap County Legislative delegation that is empowered to set the final bottom line, has scheduled meetings to deliberate the budget for Dec. 11, 13 and 18, all at 7 p.m.
Delegation Chairman Herb Vadney, (R-Meredith), who spent the day in Concord, participating in the vote for the next Speaker of the House, did not immediately return a call seeking comment, but has said he plans to follow the same budget review process as last year with the entire 17-member delegation collectively looking at proposed spending, instead of having it taken up by individual committees.
As now proposed, the budget would likely impact the county seat the hardest. The City of Laconia pays some 19 percent of the taxes that go into county coffers, an amount that eclipsed $2.4 million this year. As a result of the tax cap, if that amount jumps by as much as $800,000 next year, the city would have few options other than to make cuts in spending for schools and municipal government.
The cap, approved by voters in November 2005, limits the increase in the amount collected in property taxes based on a formula tied to changes in the federal National Consumer Price Index and the value of new construction, less demolitions.
County commissioners have decided against applying any reserve funds to offset the $17.3 million that needs to be raised via property taxes, forecasting that surplus will dip to about $770,000 at the end of the fiscal year. Revenue has dropped from $12.5 million to $11.7 million, further compounding the budget woes.
Most recently, County Commissioners Dave DeVoy, (R-Sanbornton), and Hunter Taylor, (R-Alton) have faulted former Belknap County Rep. Brian Gallagher for being the architect of a 2016 delegation vote that saw an additional $605,000 in Belknap County reserve funds added to the $1,755,000 already proposed to reduce the amount needed to be raised in taxes.
Gallagher said he believes DeVoy and Taylor have a difference in thinking from the majority of the Delegation.
“I do forgive both of these commissioners for their very unkind and false allegations and hope this forgiveness can assist them both in moving them on from their financial management mistakes on county finances and consider the concept of term limits, and return to the private sector,” Gallagher said.
When Moody’s last affirmed the county’s Aa2 rating and removed the negative outlook as a result of the $9.7 million of outstanding general obligation bonds in 2013, the inventory service cited as specific challenges the Belknap County’s reliance on fund balance appropriations to balance annual budgets and maintaining structurally balanced operations and sufficient reserve funds.