OSSIPEE — On a party line vote and in a major course reversal, the Carroll County legislative delegation Tuesday finally passed its 2020 budget.
Some delegation members appeared at the meeting at the County Administrative Office by phone or by video conference, due to social distancing suggested in the new era of the coronavirus.
The delegation of 15 Carroll County state representatives began working on the 2020 budget last December after county commissioners gave them their proposed budget.
The delegation has been trying to wrap up the budget since March 13. That meeting was recessed to March 16, then to March 19.
After arguing all day March 19, the delegation, in an 8-7 vote, decided to disregard all the work they had done and to revert to last year’s budget in a bid to save taxpayer money in wake of the novel coronaviris outbreak.
That vote mostly fell on partisan lines, but the deciding vote came from Rep. Harrison Kanzler (D-Conway), who sided with the Republicans and put them over the top.
However, when the delegation reconvened on Tuesday morning, Kanzler said he had changed his mind overnight.
Thus started a chain of events where the March 19 vote was reconsidered and then reversed.
The reason for his reversal, Kanzler said, was the proposed tax increase from the 2020 budget was much smaller than he thought it would be.
"In full disclosure, I'm not very good at math, and in calculating what the tax increases would be based on that budget, I was significantly off," said Kanzler adding he thought the increase might be $400 per household.
"I know now after reassessing the math and doing it correctly, it would be far from that, and for the average household it would be somewhere in the $20-$30 range."
After about two hours, the delegation Tuesday passed a budget of $34,699,964, which is about $1.5 million more than last year.
Last week, Commissioner Amanda Bevard (R-Wolfeboro) objected to reducing the budget over coronavirus concerns. She said she's lived though many crises and that life experience has taught her not to make "knee-jerk reactions."
"I understand some of you are very young. and this is a very, very scary thing especially if you have young children, but this is also the United States of America, and if we stick together we survive," said Bevard.
Kanzler, 33, said Bevard's remarks were aimed at him because he's the youngest delegation member and has small children. Kanzler said he was "offended."
On Tuesday, Kanzler apologized to Bevard.
"I think that her words were wise in the sense that this is a difficult time, I think, for many people, and I had been talking with friends and family that day who were going through some things."
The new budget contains money for a county domestic violence prosecutor.
The delegation also funded a significantly county coordinator position for $52,000. This was in the wake of former County Administrator Ken Robichaud being fired by commissioners earlier this year. He will be given a severance package of approximately $173,000, and the new coordinator position comes at a much lower salary than the one Robichaud was making.
The budget also contained money for a $32,000 hay bailer.
The Republican members of the delegation anticipated a reconsideration motion was coming and had a statement prepared.
Rep. Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro noted that actual spending in 2019 was 8 percent lower than the approved budget, which means there would be enough wiggle room to use the same $32 million budget figure in 2020.
"We believe that especially in these difficult times, the delegation needs to present a responsible budget that does not add to the economic woes in Carroll County," said Cordelli. "The Democrat decision to overturn our bipartisan vote of last week is nothing less than turning their backs on our residents in favor of more county spending and taxes.
"Your Republican delegation members will continue to work for a budget that does not dangerously reduce the county surplus or rainy day fund and, mostly importantly, does not burden citizens by increasing your taxes at a time when such an increase would cause hardship for citizens who could realistically be dealing with loss of wages, medical bills and long term effects of a very serious disruption of their lives."
Rep. Jerry Knirk (D-Freedom) also had a statement prepared.
Knirk said that the domestic violence prosecutor will be needed because of the close quarters and financial strain residents will be facing due to cornavirus. He also said the delegation had no control over some of the increases in the budget, such as an 8.5 percent increase to health insurance costs.
What's more, Knirk said Conway's county tax rate was $1.15 per $1,000 of property value in 2019. The 2020 budget would add 8 cents to that, which means that the owner of an average Conway home of $200,000 would see a $16 tax increase.
"Other services that will see increased need as we deal with the coronavirus crisis received increased funding in the proposed 2020 budget, including White Horse Addiction Center, RSVP and End 68 Hours of Hunger," said Knirk.
"The state and the federal government are stepping up to increase spending to help people through this crisis and the county needs to do its part as well."