Our late 3-term governor, Meldrim Thomson, coined the slogans “Low taxes are the result of low spending.”
On this past Tuesday night, the Belknap County Delegation, comprised of all 18 of its elected state representatives, took that to heart, so for the first time in a long time the Belknap County taxes for this year will actually be lower than those last year. I am not making this up!
Although the county taxes are the smallest portion of the local property tax bill (compared to those for public schools and local town or city government), they are still quite significant. Belknap County is currently spending over $30 Million per year.
It appears that many taxpayers in the county simply do not understand the budgeting process that results in setting the county taxes. The Board of County Commissioners, the elected 3-member board, proposes a budget that is then examined and possibly modified by the County Delegation, which has the final word.
For this year, the County Commissioners proposed a budget that would have raised county taxes by 12% over those for last year.
One of those County Commissioners fortunately did not run for re-election, but this proposed budget raising taxes was his parting gift to the taxpayers. This is the same County Commissioner who referred to the budgeting process as a “game,” for which this writer publicly accused him of insulting all taxpayers in the County by calling the process a game- this is definitely not a game.
After spending about 20 hours examining each of the hundreds of line items in the proposed budget, with input from the head of each county department, the Executive Committee of the Delegation (5 members of the Delegation elected by the Delegation to serve in that capacity) produced a proposed budget that would lower county taxes by 11% from those for last year.
Only when that proposal from the Delegation surfaced did the county commissioners produce a revised proposal that would lower taxes by about 1%. Why they could not or would not produce such a budget proposal in the first instance was never explained.
Ultimately, the budget proposed by the Delegation’s Executive Committee was accepted by a majority vote, so Belknap County taxes will go down this year by 11%.
This was accomplished as a direct result of the leadership of Delegation Chair Rep Mike Sylvia and Exec Committee Chair Rep Ray Howard.
Finally, it should be noted that nearly every year the actual expenditures by the county are less than the amounts appropriated in the approved budget, and the excess or surplus goes into an account that is cleverly labeled the “Fund Balance.” The Fund Balance is tax monies collected but not spent- some would call this a slush fund. And the amount in the Belknap County Fund Balance account over the last 10 years has varied from a high of $8.2 Million in 2010 to the end-of-2020 balance of $6.1 Million, of which the newly approved budget allocates $3 Million against expenses to bring the required taxes down. The county commissioners had wanted to apply only $2 Million from the slush fund against expenditures which would have left over $4 Million in the slush fund.
The slush fund, a/k/a the Fund Balance, in the money of each and every taxpayer in the county.
Some taxpayers have already complained, and will almost certainly continue to complain, that the approved budget does not fund this or that favored department or project to their desired level. But the reality is that we are living in very troubled times economically, and this is the time for austerity in our government spending and taxation of our citizens.
If this can actually happen in Belknap County, it can happen elsewhere if elected officials can only muster sufficient political will to do the right thing for the taxpayers.