The Carroll County delegation has passed a budget for 2020 that meets the needs of the county. The county is responsible for the House of Corrections, the Registry of Deeds, the county attorney who prosecutes criminal cases, the Sheriff’s Department and dispatch, which handles emergency calls, the county nursing home, and the overall management of county activities.
The budget process is long, beginning in the fall when the various department heads go through their budget, building on the previous year’s budget to determine areas that they can cut or that need to be increased. They present this budget to the commissioners, who make further changes. The commissioners’ budget is then presented to the county delegation for approval.
The county delegation is composed of the 15 state representatives from Carroll County. The budget goes to subcommittees of the delegation who meet with department heads, further modifying the commissioners’ budget. Each subcommittee then reports to the full delegation for discussion to determine priorities of where cuts can be made or where increases for programs or personnel are needed.
The delegation meeting to finalize the budget was a long, multi-day one, spread over March 13, March 16, March 19, and March 24.
This process became more difficult with restrictions due to the coronavirus. Edie DesMarais, the chair of the delegation, worked diligently to learn how to use a remote meeting platform to enable some attendees to be physically present while many attended remotely. The meetings were still open to the public.
The delegation worked in a bipartisan manner to address the budget issues. Examination of the minutes from March 13, 16 and 19 showed that 35 of the votes on portions of the budget were unanimous, 17 were very bipartisan with just one to two representatives voting against the motion, four were completely mixed-partisan and only six were partisan votes.
An example of a newly funded service in this budget is the development of a regional domestic violence prosecutor to provide specialized prosecution of domestic violence cases. The delegation voted unanimously to add this program.
When nearing the end of the budget process, the coronavirus crisis arose. The delegation is concerned with its impact on our citizens. With the economic problems related to coronavirus, we recognize people will have difficulty paying bills, including taxes. Likewise, we recognize the service needs of people in our county will probably increase as well.
For example, with people confined to home in close quarters and under financial pressure, it is likely domestic violence will increase, requiring more resources to deal with it, including the new domestic violence prosecutor.
Other services that will see increased need as we deal with the coronavirus crisis received increased funding, including White Horse Addiction Center, RSVP, and End 68 Hours of Hunger. The state and federal governments are stepping up to increase spending to help people through this crisis and the county needs to do its part as well.
The 2020 county budget is $34,699,964, an increase of about 4.5 percent over last year’s budget.
As with any large, labor-intensive organization many of the costs are driven by needed personnel costs, including medical insurance costs.
Medical insurance costs for our employees comprise about 8.4 percent of our total budget and increased in the past year by 8.5 percent. They alone drove the budget up 0.7 percent.
We also have to pay a state Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services assessment of $5,246,712, which represents 15 percent of our budget and increased 4 percent from 2019, driving another 0.6 percent increase in the budget.
The total of uncontrollable costs accounted for an increase of 1.9 percent of the budget from 2019. This is added to the rate of inflation of 2.3 percent.
County revenues of $14,654,741 come mostly from the nursing home. A total of $17,645,223 must be raised from taxes after using a $2.4 million surplus from last year’s budget to lower the tax impact on residents. This will require an increase in the county tax rate, but the effect will be small as the county tax rate is very low compared to the other property taxes.
The current county tax rate ranges from $1.01 to $1.31 per thousand dollars valuation from town to town (as determined by the state Department of Revenue Administration), representing about 10 percent of the property tax rate.
As an example, Conway had a county tax rate of $1.15 in 2019. Though the budget increase is only 4.5 percent, the increase in county taxes to cover the 2020 budget increase will be 6.8 percent of the county tax portion, amounting to an increase of 8 cents per $1,000 valuation in Conway. This translates into an increase of $16 on a $200,000 house.
Creating the county budget is an enormous amount of work. We are confident that the budget we passed addresses the needs of the county, while limiting the impact on our residents, especially in this time of crisis.
Submitted by N.H. Rep. Jerry Knirk (D-Freedom) on behalf of the Carroll County Delegation Democrats.