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.

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%.

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.

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.

Belknap County Finances

As we approach the end of 2018, reviewing the past year and planning for the future I am happy to report that the fiscal condition of the county is in good shape.  Looking at the year end projections, the county will have budgeted approximately $600,000 more than was necessary for operations.

In a system of checks and balances such as we have in the county, the Board of Commissions and the Delegation have differing roles.  The Commissioners propose a budget for which they will ultimately have the responsibility of managing.  The Delegation reviews and adjusts the budget, and then make the appropriation for such.  Never forget; ‘make the appropriation’ means forcing the property owners of the county to give over their money.

Because we are taking money from taxpayers, as a member of the Delegation, I believe there should be no excess in the budget.  It’s not hard to understand that if there is ‘excess’ money available, someone is going to come up with a ‘need’ to spend it.  On the other side of that equation, the Commissioners have a harder time managing the county when there is less money available.  As you can imagine they would prefer to have as much money available as they can get.

In early 2018, I went through the budget in great detail and presented an absolute bare bones budget to the Delegation.  I had pared down the Commissioners’ budget to $27,129,560 which still would require an 11% increase in county taxes; a budget so shockingly low, it was quickly dismissed.  As we close in on the end of 2018, and setting aside unplanned events, that amount would have left the Commissioners $110,000 short of funding for operations.  Off the top of my head I know of $18,000 that was spent ‘because it was available‘.  Yes, cutting spending by $100,000 would require hard choices for management; citizens have hard choices every day – food, medicine, and rent.

CORE Program

The county Commissioners do a lot of finger pointing, and blame the Delegation for not ‘fully’ funding the CORE program.  One commissioners’ ego is so large as to drive him to take out a full page advertisement chastising those who question what ‘fully‘ funding is.  Whereas there is more left unspent in the budget than was taken out of funding for the CORE program, and given the commissioners’ claims that they have authority to spend to the bottom line of the budget; the question should be why have the commissioners not used all of the money in the budget to provide CORE programming?

I’ll give you a hint to the answer; it is likely that ALL inmates that could get CORE programming likely did get that programming.  The requirements for the terms of the inmates are such that they must be sentenced for a period long enough to receive the programming.  The real question is how many inmates qualify and does their sentence align with the programs availability?  The issue is not as black and white as the commissioner would like the public to believe.

Unexpected Revenue

In our county run nursing home we take care of a number of patients who are on Medicaid.  Through a complex scheme of money shuffling the county receives funding from the Federal government to partially compensate for their care.  This funding is called ProShare.  The county had planned on receiving $1.2 million in ProShare revenue but received $3.9 in July.  The Department of Health and Human Services wanted half of the excess revenue returned to the State so that they could use it to fund a private company working on Substance Use Disorder.  The rump of the Delegation went along with this scheme and gave over $1 million taxpayer dollars away because it was available.

Looking Ahead

The county Commissioners are currently in the process of building the 2019 budget.  They will produce a budget that is padded sufficiently as to require very little actual management and fluffed up enough to top off their desired ‘fund balance’ level.  A new Delegation will be sworn in on December 5th and will assemble in the county the following week to hear the commissioners’ budget proposal.