2020 Final Belknap County Budget

Belknap county delegation

On Monday February 24, the Belknap County delegation met to complete its work on the 2020 budget. The grand total of expense lines total $30,829,837, an increase over the 2019 budget of $827,065. While the budget over budget increase appears to be in line with inflation at 2.75%, the increase as compared to the actual 2019 spending is approximately 5.7%. This means that in order to avoid out running inflation the administration will have to control spending to $30,053,004. This is far from a tall order as there is plenty of excess built in to provide for operational savings.

On the revenue side the budget expects to bring in $15,168,250 and uses $891,080 from undesignated fund balance, leaving $14,770,507 to be raised from taxes. This is the same tax level as last year.

In 2018 taxes were needlessly raised by over 14% which has led to a very flush fund balance held in reserve, which sits at approximately $4.2 million. You should understand that is money that was taken from taxpayers unnecessarily. It represents 13% of operational expenses sitting in the county’s bank account not the citizens’.

The delegation also, on Monday, approved cost items for three collective bargaining agreements. The unit covering the sheriff’s department gives 3% step increases each year over the 3 year term. The Corrections department and the Nursing Home both will receive 5% steps each year for the 4 years of the contract. Each of these contracts will, over time, bring the employee’s contribution toward health insurance up to 10%.

Being Civil

Harassment, particularly sexual harassment, is a serious issue. As one of those reprimanded by the House, I can assure you that I do not take sexual harassment lightly. I take it as seriously as I do our constitution. Contrary to the baseless false allegation made by the majority of the House, I did in fact attend sexual harassment training lead by Rep. Jess Edwards.

Photo by Rep. Mike Sylvia

As one of the chairmen of the House Republican Alliance, I attended the first of Rep. Edwards training sessions on January 15, 2019. The HRA sponsored this training and raised funds for Best Buddies New Hampshire in the process.

Why didn’t I just say so? The so called ‘rule 67’ reads “All legislators, legislative officers, and legislative staff shall attend in-person education and training regarding sexual and other unlawful harassment and discrimination.” As you can see this rule says nothing about reporting the training has been completed, it does not instruct as to when it must be accomplished, nor does it say how often it must be taken. If this were a legitimate rule it would give guidance that would answer such questions.

On a more fundamental note, this rule is outside the constitutional authority of the General Court. Our constitution provides in Part II, [Art.] 22. [House to Elect Speaker and Officers, Settle Rules of Proceedings, and Punish Misconduct.] The house of representatives shall choose their own speaker, appoint their own officers, and settle the rules of proceedings in their own house; and shall be judge of the returns, elections, and qualifications, of its members, as pointed out in this constitution.  Rule 67 has nothing to do with proceedings of the House, it is a mandate pushed for political posturing.

The letter writer seems to think that I was mocking the serious issue of harassment which is completely wrong. The Speaker of the House, and the Democrat majority were using the people’s House as a political platform from which they launched a campaign to humiliate Republicans. They disgraced themselves by turning the General Court into a kangaroo court.

Their show was lead by Rep. Lucy Weber, who went to the well of the House and repeatedly read a false charge against the accused. No questions were allowed to be asked about the charge. No evidence was presented to support the allegations. None of the accused would be allowed to face their accuser. The rule of the proceeding was what ever the Speaker allowed, and his rulings would be supported by the majority in a lock-step vote. There was no place for the rule of law in this farcical theater of the absurd. Mob rule is the way of this Democratic majority; and that I do mock.

Thursday February 20, 2020 will stand as the darkest day I have witness in my 7 years in the House. Democratic colleagues with whom I’ve worked cordially in the past shredded those relationships for the sake of scoring political points. They were once respected but now have revealed their true nature. Being civil will be the best I can muster.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 16, 2019
CONTACT: James Spillane, HRA Tri-Chair (603) 463-5623
James@jamesspillane.org
Concord: On Tuesday January 15, 2019 the House Republican Alliance held a training session on workplace behavior, with the Honorable Representative Jess Edwards as instructor, to 31 Republican members of the New Hampshire House.
The presentation by Representative Edwards gave the full range of possible problems that can arise in House business through deliberate or accidental encounters with others, as well as the actions that should be taken by those involved.
Of primary focus was not only prevention of a Hostile workplace, but the legislative and litigious history explaining how Hostile Workplace and Harassment laws have reached this point. The handling of all sides of any unfortunate encounter was thoroughly discussed, providing insight and direction whether accuser or accused, and whether allegations be true or falsely sworn.
The HRA raised $362 for Best Buddies New Hampshire through donations by those attending the class.
Of the training Rep. Mike Sylvia said “I think the choice to donate to BBNH was excellent, they demonstrate that working together cooperatively produces the best results. This is in sharp contrast to the beliefs of the House majority who use bullying at every turn.”
At the conclusion Representative James Spillane thanked Representative Edwards for a very professional, concise, and thorough presentation, and added “The information regarding the history of litigation and lawmaking that brought us to this point in history was especially of interest to us, as lawmakers, I believe.”
The House Republican Alliance was established in 1997 and is the longest running caucus in the NH House of Representatives. Its goal is to pass legislation consistent with the US and NH Constitutions, and that represents the core values of the state Republican platform and fiscal responsibility.

Dems Bring D.C. to Concord

In 2018 Democrats running for state representative seats in Concord proclaimed the need for bipartisanship. They won a majority in the house and senate with their campaign promises. The truth became clear very soon after they swore their oath to our constitution; they had the majority and they intended to subject the minority to their rule.

Their first move in the house was to violate their oath to our constitution by making a ‘rule’ mandating training. The constitution reads; “Part II, [Art.] 22. [House to Elect Speaker and Officers, Settle Rules of Proceedings, and Punish Misconduct.] The house of representatives shall choose their own speaker, appoint their own officers, and settle the rules of proceedings in their own house; and shall be judge of the returns, elections, and qualifications, of its members, as pointed out in this constitution.” As you can clearly see rules are to govern proceedings in the house.

The rule passed by the Democrats reads; “Rule 67. All legislators, legislative officers, and legislative staff shall attend in-person education and training regarding sexual and other unlawful harassment and discrimination.” Not only is this not a rule governing a proceeding in the house, it is an unbounded mandate imposed upon duly elected members. As it is not in compliance with the constitution, it is a nullity.

New members of the house came in promising bipartisanship, but what they actually intend to do is carry out their campaign of ‘social justice’. They intend to replace our common moral principles with their self aggrandizing ‘virtue signalling‘. They intend to replace the republic our forefathers bequeathed to us with ‘our democracy‘.

The democracy that they seek is simply tyranny by the majority and this is undeniably seen in their actions. They have put forward legislation that would make California and New York blush. Fortunately, Governor Sununu has stood firm against the most egregious of these assaults on our liberties. Again in the second year of this term, having no intention of putting forward sensible legislation, they have brought back the same bills that were vetoed last year, and will be vetoed again this year.

This campaign by the social justice warriors is not about helping the citizens of this state, it is political posturing of the kind found in the District of Columbia. It demeans the dignity of our house and our long standing traditions.

I will not submit to this tyrannical, unconstitutional action. I will proudly accept a badge of honor from those who will reprimand my stand against this assault on our republic. 

Gunstock Changes

In an article I found at Patch, about some changes that have been in the works for a while, I found a few items that could use some clarification.

By Paula Tracy, InDepthNH.org

GILFORD, NH — Belknap County-owned Gunstock ski area is in for some changes as its longtime general manager and its marketing director leave. And legislation is proposed to give legislative leaders more control over the makeup of its governing board and the ski area’s money.

The writer kicks off this article with a pretty clear bias against legislators. The FACT is the legislators and the commission worked together to address deficiencies in the law that unduly restricted Gunstock from more efficient operation.

News of the change at the helm in the middle of the ski season came a day before legislation was heard on a bill to give the county legislative delegation more control over who operates Gunstock and where the money goes.

As to management of the ski area, it is functionally the end of the year and time to begin planning for future operations. As to ‘the money‘, this is more than a small quibble for control of a couple of bucks. The ski area has been rescued by the county taxpayers twice in recent decades. The last was a $6,000,000 bailout in 2000. If you can be bothered to do the math, there is hardly a return on investment, if you chose to look at in such terms.

The current law states that no more than one person from the same municipality can serve on the board but the bill looks to drop that requirement and it would add term limits.

The current law states that no more than one two persons from the same municipality can serve on the board.

The Gunstock Area Commission has a regularly scheduled meeting set for Jan. 29 at 6 p.m. at the ski area.

From the Gunstock web page;

The next meeting of the Gunstock Area Commission will be held Wednesday January 29th at 6pm at the Belkanp County Complex, Meeting Room 2, 34 County Way, Laconia NH 03247.

Belknap County Budget Up 13% For 2020

Year End County Budget Evaluation

Saturday, December 28, 2019

As the year comes to a close, we will soon have final budget figures for 2019. There are two possible labor cost items that may effect the 2020 budget that will be considered on Monday the 30th. There are a number of items which were not in the 2019 budget for which the commissioners believe they can encumber funds. I consider this to be a misappropriation of funds from the 2019 budget; other than the funding for Community Health Services Network, LLC., the monies being spent are for items which lacked a 2019 appropriation.

A long running dispute over appropriation authority seemed to have been settled with a ruling from the Belknap Superior court. On March 3, 2015 the county commissioners signed off on a stipulation agreement. The ruling reaffirmed the provisions of RSA 24:14 and further acknowledged that the delegation has appropriation authority down to individual lines in the budget. With no regard for the law and the clear direction of the delegation, the commissioners have allowed 5 departments in the nursing home to exceed their appropriations for 2019. The commissioners, having been caught, are now claiming that the nursing home is a department all to itself. This is pure nonsense. Department defined; a category consisting especially of a measurable activity or attribute. In our budgets these are segments which are divide out and considered separately. For instance, ‘outside agencies’ are not part of the county government, yet they are grouped together as a unit within the budget. As to the nursing home, the minutes of the delegation’s votes on February 20, 2019 explicitly refer to 7 of the 11 distinct segments as “departments.” Even commissioner Waring asked about staffing in the “activities department” (only found in the nursing home) at the December 19, 2019 commissioners’ meeting.

The delegation appropriated $30,002,772 to cover county expenses in 2019. As we come to a close of the year we see that final figures for the gift to Community Health Services Network, LLC. has not been determined. So for 2019the only amount given was the appropriation of 2018 of $759,505. The remaining $1,152,510 will be included in the excess taxation figure which the commissioners euphemistically call ‘operational savings’. That will bring the ‘operational savings’ figure for the year to $1,735,763 (Dec 18, 2019). When we deduct that from the amount appropriated we get $28,267,009 that was needed to run the county in2019. Actually that number is a bit high and does not account for the misappropriations made during the year.

Now for the 2020 budget the commissioners have asked for $31,982,847 (which does not account for new labor agreements). This is a 13% increase over 2019 spending. Because the 2019 budget was so inflated they can claim it is ONLY a 6.6% increase budget over budget.

On the revenue side of the budget game the county brought in $810,932 more than estimated. This is money you were taxed and will be rolled into the fund balance. Fund balance is money the commissioners prefer to keep in their accounts so they have it available, and you don’t.

Do You Own Your Property

On Thursday,December 19, 2019 the Belknap Superior court issued its ruling in the case of Town of Belmont v. Mike Sylvia. The court ordered an injunction against the use of my property, and awarded attorney’s fees to be paid to the town. They held in abeyance any fines for prior use of my own property.

At the heart of this issue is the people’s right to ownership of property. To own a thing is to have control of that thing. If one owns and controls an object then he has a right to use that property as he sees fit as long as his use harms no other. If one is truly an owner there is no need to ask for permission to use that which is owned. To be required to seek permission to use ones own property, such as applying for a building permit, is contrary to our right of holding property.

The New Hampshire constitution, upon which our government claims authority, is a beloved document which I hold in high esteem. It predates the founding of the united States and is by far a better constitution than the U.S. Constitution. It was made clear prior to the formation of the New Hampshire state government that the construction of a government could not come into being until the inalienable rights of the people were documented. Therefore, before the republic was established in Part II of the New Hampshire constitution, Part I reserved to the people of the state all the essential rights which were unnecessary to a proper government. Only after our rights were reserved did we then parse out powers that would be necessary to a just government.

We the people of New Hampshire surrendered up only such authority as would be needed to form a society which could work together for the protection of all citizens. This exchange was to protect our rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness.

Among the proper roles of our government is to assure against trespasses upon its citizens. If the actions of one person reaches into harming the rights of another citizen the state was empowered with what is know as the police power of the state. All of the reserved rights of Part I were held as private rights which would be protected by the state; lacking that protection the constitution is null.

In the case at hand the court has ruled that I have harmed the Town of Belmont. I did not go to the Town and ask for permission to use my property. The harm alleged is that I have violated a Town ordinance. I posit that the Town’s ordinance is in violation of my Part I protected right to the ownership and peaceful enjoyment of my property. As we all should know, any law made in violation of our constitution is a nullity. The Town has not protected my right to property, it has failed to do so.

As we go onward from here, I want to express my gratitude for friends and neighbors who have supported my efforts along the way. I have stood not only for myself but for the people of Belmont and beyond. So, I ask you; do we accept that our property is not our own?

Send an e-mail with your thoughts; mike@mikesylvia.org

2020 Belknap County Budget

The Belknap county commissioners have released their proposed budget for 2020. Their budget would spend $31,982,847 which is 6.6% more than the 2019 budget. They provide for spending $1,500,000 from unrestricted fund balance which will result in a tax increase of 6.4%. The county delegation will meet Friday, December 13th at 7:00 to receive a presentation and get public comments.

These figures will stun anyone that is at all familiar with economics. Belknap county has an aging population and growth is very limited. If the county was growing, and keeping pace with inflation (2.5%), the proposal would still be double what would be reasonable. When government outruns the pace of economic growth and inflation, the stage is set for an unpleasant and possibly sharp decline.

If the delegation is to take its responsibility for this budget we will need to reduce the commissioners’ request substantially. Fortunately, the commissioners allow plenty of room to adjust their inflated desires. If we look at the 2019 budget and compare it to actual spending we’ll see there was more than a million dollars stuffed in the budget that was unnecessarily taken from the pockets of the county taxpayers.

Let me show you the money. In 2019 the delegation appropriated $30,002,772 to cover county expenses. From that we deduct the ‘operational savings’(unspent budgeted funds) of $1,162,812, we get $28,839,960 which was spent on county operations. This amount also includes spending of funds that were not appropriated by the delegation. To get to a realistic budget number for 2020, take the amount spent in 2019,subtract the amounts spent without authorization and add 2.5% for inflation. That will put you in the neighborhood of $29.6 million.

Rest assured, that real world math would not please those that have to manage the budget. And I wouldn’t stop there. That budget includes an unconstitutional gift to a private corporation (Community Health Services Network, LLC.) of $620,000. [Art.]10. [Right of Revolution.] Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men… Taking of taxpayers’ money and giving it to a corporation does not fit the standard of ‘common benefit’. So,there we are, a budget that should be $29 million not $32 million.

If we look back to the 2019 budget process, the executive committee was tasked with producing a budget. We brought a budget of $29,144,306 to the full delegation (note that this was $300,000 more than needed) and it was rejected. The commissioners sold their fear campaign to a new crop of legislators and the taxpayers coughed up an extra $850,000 to ensure no management skills would be required.

If the delegation gets anywhere near a budget that I could vote for, expect a lot of drama from County Drive. I’m willing to suffer the whining if the taxpayers don’t get gouged in the process.

Puzzle Pieces

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ofernandezberrios

When you buy a puzzle the box gives you lots of useful information. Of course, the first is the pretty picture that you will be assembling. The box will give you ideas on how many pieces there will be and maybe an experience level for those putting it together. Puzzles are interesting and entertaining, good stuff for your brain.

Politics is a bit of a different puzzle. You likely have no idea the sort of fun you will have when you open that box. In a lot of ways you get to build your own puzzle in the political world; choose your challenge. Even as you are building your own, you may not know what it will look like when you’re done.

Today I’ll look at a couple of pieces that fit together that I had not recognized as they slipped together without me noticing.

Budget battles are particularly invigorating, if you want to spend the county taxpayer’s money you’re going to get resistance from me. Such was the case in 2017 when we had a fairly conservative delegation in Belknap county. We trimmed back the commissioners’ bloated spending plan to something not too egregious.

County commissioners like many managers want a bit extra in their budgets so they don’t have to work so hard at actually managing the budget. It’s much easier to have an extra million in the budget than it is to control expenses to finish the year without running out of money. In 2017 they hooted and hollered so much at the ‘tight’ appropriation that the Town of Belmont’s selectboard felt the need to chime in with a letter to the commissioners, and the Laconia Daily Sun. I can only guess what inspired them as there are no clues to be found in the minutes of the Board of Selectmen. There may be a missing puzzle piece here that I need to find. That or the board was acting outside of public view.

The budget crisis in Belknap county was so bad that the commissioners were forced to request a supplemental appropriation. That’s their story. Because such requests must be sent out to the towns and city of Laconia, I did my selectboard the service of laying out the reality of the budget in a letter. On July 31, 2017 the minutes of the selectmen note that they received my correspondence. After the meeting they went in to non-public session under RSA 91-A:3 II c (Matters which, if discussed in public, would likely affect adversely the reputation of any person, other than a member of the public body itself, unless such person requests an open meeting. This exemption shall extend to any application for assistance or tax abatement or waiver of a fee, fine, or other levy, if based on inability to pay or poverty of the applicant.) at which time they discussed the need to check my property for possible code violations. This seems curious, especially because I was never invited – unless such person requests an open meeting. – so sue me.

The taxpayers lost this little skirmish, and the commissioners would be able to sit out the rest of the year fat and happy.

As our section of the puzzle comes to a close at the end of 2017, you can see that the delegation had appropriated $933,604 (2017 audit) more than was needed for operations. Even before $256,852 was raised from a supplemental appropriation, the commissioners had $676,752 more than was needed to ‘fully fund’ the jail.

So why do I find the need to write about this stuff two years after the fact? One piece of the puzzle was the county budget; another was the Town of Belmont’s special interest in county affairs. Those two came together on July 31, 2017. They were hidden from view until I received discovery after the town chose to sue me. They have caused me to do a lot of review of the past. They have opened up a view to this puzzle and the connections to other pieces that are attached.

Puzzle image credit

Privatizing Dining

I received a call prior to the Belknap County commissioners’ meeting regarding the nursing home dining services.  It was from a local newspaper reporter and he was seeking a comment about ‘privatizing’ the kitchen at the nursing home.  My first remark was about the use of this ‘privatize’ term; it just doesn’t seem to sit right.  If it is to be ‘privatized’, then had it been ‘socialized’ all this time? 

I attended both meetings on the topic, the first on March 28th where the commissioners decided to hold a public hearing on the proposed contract, and then meeting again on April 4th for the public hearing.  I’ve attended a number of commissioners’ meetings and I am generally the closest thing to a member of the public sitting in the audience. 

Naturally, with jobs on the agenda the public hearing was close to standing room only.  The kitchen staff was bolstered by other nursing home employees, and a few nursing home residents.  Whereas the commissioners had already been presented the contract on the 28th, they went through the motion of asking the nursing home administrator a series of questions prior to opening the floor to comments from the ‘public.’

The county workers made their plea to shelve the idea of turning over the service to a corporate entity.  They pointed at the commissioners stating that the commissioners were only concerned about the money that would be saved.  They looked at the residents and tearfully stated that they were family (it’s a small county and some are likely actual family members).  After each speaker’s emotional plea came a round of applause.

The public airing of grievances wandered well into the neighborhood of an angry mob.  The chairman of the commission loudly begged the crowd to calm down as he ‘never uses his gavel and was not going start using it.’  Eventually the public comments were closed, but only in a technical sense as occasional grumblings would continue as the commissioners deliberated. 

Two of the commissioners voted in support of awarding the contract to Glendale Senior Dining, one voted against stating ‘that he did not have enough information to support approval.’  I found this to be the most disingenuous statement of the night (and there were many) having had a week to get answers to any questions that might have arisen.

After the vote the room cleared out and warnings circulated that there would likely be a number of sick calls from the dining staff in the morning.  That might make one wonder how much they love their residents.

Yes people it is about the money, on both sides.  Government intervention in health care, retirement and taxation is the root of this problem.  And the unions are also guilty of contributing to schemes that push costs down the road so that they might claim victory in getting benefits in the future, instead of solid wages today.

Whether you chose to call it privatized or socialized it is all paid for with other people’s money.  As Frederic Bastiat said, “Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.”

Gunstock Bailout

Gunstock bailout

Rep Raymond Howard has facts on his side

2018 has presented Gunstock with some tough sledding on the fiscal front.  As we approach the November 6th election Gunstock and its financial woes has been used as political fodders.  In recent letters 1, 2, to the Laconia Daily Sun a candidate (a current Gunstock commissioner) and a former Gunstock commissioner have written a jumble of incoherent misleading scribblings aimed at the integrity of Rep. Howard.

After a number of years being run by the Belknap County Commissioners, the Gunstock Area Commission was formed to resolve problems associated with the ski area being run by the County Commissioners. This ignores the actual problem which is a government body trying to run a competitive business. 

One of the problems of a government run business is moral hazard.  The taxpayers are on the hook for any failures but management reaps rewards if things run reasonably well.  In the ski industry 2-3 years of bad weather can be expected and plans for such need to be in place.  The late 1990’s put Gunstock in a position which required a hard choice; shut it down, or go to the taxpayers to keep it running.

On May 11, 2000 the County Delegation handed the bill to the county taxpayers:

Gunstock 2000 Memorandum
May 11, 2000 Gunstock Memorandum of Agreement

Contrary to Rep. Howard’s critics the county taxpayers are on the edge of having to pick up another $6 million in bonds which Gunstock is having difficulty servicing.  The Gunstock Commission has failed over the past 17 years to build enough reserves  to get through one summer without a Revenue Anticipation Note.  Let’s not forget the downgrade of the county’s bond rating earlier in 2018 whereas Moody’s cited Gunstock as a risk factor in that decision.

This should not be taken as an assault on any of the current or past commissioners.  The problem is that government is not capable of running a business and shouldn’t even ever attempt to do so.  It’s time to find a way to turn over the keys to a qualified operator.