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July 13 - State Budget Shows Property Tax Decrease

This article appears in the E-Ticker News July 13, 2015

NH House Happenings

By Rep. John Cloutier

County Budget Shows Property Tax Decrease

First, I wish to correct an error I made in last weekʼs column regarding the various revenue sources in Sullivan Countyʼs Fiscal Year 2016 Budget. As readers may remember, I wrote that the Sullivan County Cooperative Extension Service is anticipated to receive $12,352 in reimbursement money from the county in the current Fiscal Year 2016 Budget. What I actually meant to write is that Coop- erative Extension is anticipated to reimburse the current budget $12,352 for utilities such as heat and electricity that our county government will provide this valuable agency. Sorry for any misunder- standing, and I thank County Manager Jessie Levine for catching my error. 

Anyway, in this weekʼs column, I will continue writing about the current Fiscal Year 2016 Budgetʼs more important features which I believe make the current budget not only a good plan for providing needed services to county residents this year but could also help ensure that such services continue to be relatively high quality and affordable for the next several years to come.

Again as I indicated in last weekʼs column the current budget totals an exact amount of $32,140,028. Exactly $13,594,962 of the just-mentioned amount will be raised by property taxes, while the remaining $18,545,066 will come from non-property tax revenue of various sources. As readers may remember, I briefly listed several of these revenue sources.

However, the Sullivan County Delegation, or County Convention, as it is also known, approved the current budget on June 23 with a few other important dedicated funds which were specifically approved in subsequent votes on June 23, all by unanimous 12-0 roll call votes. The approvals came after the Delegationʼs Executive Finance Committee and Sullivan County Commissioners had recommended these specific dedicated funds for the countyʼs long-term benefit.

Among these dedicated funds will be a total of $615,000, which will come from the countyʼs undesignated fund balance, which is similar to New Hampshire Governmentʼs Rainy Day Fund. The $615,000 will be used for various capital expenses in Fiscal Year 2016. In other words, for the construction or renovation of county buildings and property as well as the purchase or repair of heavy equipment. Returning to the undesignated fund balance, as of the end of the audited Fiscal Year 2014 Budget, it was exactly $6,888,761, according to Sunapee Rep. Suzanne Gottling, who is the Executive Finance Committee Chair. County officials will not know the new exact amount of the undesignated fund balance for the end of the previous Fiscal Year 2015

Budget, which ended on June 30, until the audit of the previous budget is completed, which is likely this fall.

The $615,000 in capital expenses are part of the current budgetʼs CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) earlier adopted by the County Commis- sioners, and approved by the Delegation on June 23. The CIP includes a total of $350,000 alone for upgrades to the Stearns Building, which is part of Sullivan County Health Care, commonly known as the nursing home, at the Unity Complex. The remaining $265,000 is for smaller re- pair and renovation projects at the Unity Complex, Newportʼs Woodhull County Building, and the purchase of a new tractor for the Unity Complex.

Speaking of capital expenses, the Delegation also voted on June 23 to deposit $445,000 from the fund balance into the Sullivan County Capital Reserve Fund for future capital projects. The Capital Reserve Fund was first created by a unanimous roll call vote of a previous Delegation in September, 2012, and as of June 23 has a total balance of $481,000 according to County Manager Levine.

Furthermore, the Delegation voted on June 23 to create another separate reserve fund from some of the fund balance as authorized by New Hampshire law. The Delegation not only voted to create the Sulli- van County Health Care Reserve Fund for the purpose of paying for long-term care services at the nursing home, but deposited a total of $1,500,000 into the reserve fund. Any expenditures from the fund would have to approved by the Delegation, and would likely only be considered in cases of financial emergency at the nursing home. 

In summary, exactly $2,810,000 out of the presently estimated $6,888,761 fund balance has put into the Fiscal Year 2016 Sullivan County Budget. This $2,810,000 includes $250,000 to reduce property taxes, which should result in a two percent or six cents per $1,000 decrease in such taxes for most Sullivan County property owners in com- parison to last yearʼs taxes. Not a huge decrease for sure, but one that many of my Claremont constituents, who pay property taxes, should welcome.

I believe this current county budget is a sensible financial plan because it provides needed county services, while not increasing the countyʼs share of property taxes for the fourth year in a row. But it also invests funds to fix, improve, or replace countyʼs aging buildings as well as heavy equipment. Finally, it sets aside some needed money to help pay for services at Sullivan County Health Care without immediately raising property taxes, if the nursing homeʼs expenses were to suddenly and drastically increase. Also the just-mentioned money could be used if the federal and/or state federal governments suddenly decided to re- duce and/or eliminate either the Medicaid or Medicare revenue the nursing home receives for many residentsʼ care. While neither of the earlier-described emergencies is likely to occur in the near future, county officials, including myself, believe it is best to be prepared, if we have the surplus funds. In other words, the current county budget is an example of long-term thinking that other levels of government ought to consider emulating in my opinion.

Email: jocloutier@comcast.net

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