2021 Belknap County Budget

The county board of commissioners’ budget for 2021 proposes to raise property taxes by 12%. As is always the case the commissioners have provided enough padding in the budget to allow them to spend as they desire without needing to manage a budget. They are also using $2 million from fund balance (previously paid taxes).

Let’s note here that many of the county’s senior citizens will be getting a 1.3% increase in their social security.

As we know the commissioners like to compare one budget to the next in order to downplay the actual increase they are seeking. The 2020 budget was $30,829,837 which was ~$2.25 million higher than was needed to fund county operations in 2020. In other words the taxpayers were forced to pay $2.25 million more than was necessary for county operations in 2020.

Now let’s compare the 2020 spending of ~$28,600,000 to the 2021 commissioners’ request of $31,961,320. We can see here that spending would increase by 11.8%, compare that to growth (loss) in the non-government sector. Because the commissioners use the budget-to-budget scheme they can claim the increase in spending is only 4% over 2020.

While this escalation of spending is bad enough on the surface it is actually worse. The commissioners have finally removed a taxpayer gift to Community Health Services Network, LLC. from their budget. That line in 2020 was $580,000. In the end a little less than $300,000 was given to this corporation.

As we look at bringing common sense to the county budget, we should be staying within $28.3 million (28.6 million minus $300,000) with a 2% maximum for inflation. Using such a sensible method will put spending for 2021 at ~$28,900,000. Taking this reasonable projection of the funds needed to run the county shows that the commissioners have asked for $2.9 million more than is necessary.

The executive committee has gone through the budget and removed some of the fat. They have pared down the spending to $30,256,185 which is an increase in spending over 2020 of 5.6%, well above inflation. As I have said in the past, governments can only grow faster than the general economy for a short period of time before large problems force a solution upon them.

The citizens of the county have faced many challenges in 2020 from an economy disrupted by the reactions to the virus. The county has amassed a fund balance beyond the commissioners’ upper limits. A $6,000,000 fund balance is 20% of the county’s annual budget. How many of our citizens have savings of 20% of their annual salary? Few, I will guess. The executive committee has budgeted a return of $3,000,000 to the taxpayers, giving them a bit of relief while maintaining ample funds to handle any emergencies.

This is how the administration views the budget, comparing to the previous budget.

The county administration loves to obfuscate reality by comparing budget-to-budget. We know that the 2020 budget had over 2 million dollars appropriated that were not necessary. So, in order to get a proper evaluation take the 2020 budget of $30,829,837 and subtract the excess $2,250,000 to start with a realistic budget of $28,579,837. Now you will see that the commissioners’ request is an 11.8% increase. The executive committee is allowing for an actual spending increase of 5.8% which is well above inflation.

A quick review

  • Exec Comm budget increases funding to $30,256,185 (5.69% increase)
  • Exec Comm uses $3,000,000 from fund balance to offset taxes (leaving $3,000,00 in fund balance)
  • The amount to be raised by taxes is $13,145,309 a reduction of $1,625,198 (11%)
  • They also voted to restrict transfers between departments to $1,000 without Exec Comm approval

There is one more step in the budget process, bringing it to the full county delegation. The administration will fight to have more money put back into the budget. If you want to avoid higher taxes join me to have your voice heard.

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