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Merrimack County

Proposed budget up slightly

Total increases by less than 1 percent

Merrimack County Commissioners have proposed a 2013 county budget with a less than 1 percent increase over the current budget.

County commissioners presented the $77 million budget proposal to state representatives yesterday at the first meeting of the newly elected Merrimack County delegation.

“As commissioners, we put together a county budget that I think you’ll be pleased with,” said Commissioner Bronwyn Asplund-Walsh.

State representatives from Merrimack County have final control over the budget. They will use the proposed budget as a starting point for committee work and budget hearings before voting on the budget in March.

“County government for you is probably even more important than state government because you have a direct vote on what happens with your taxes at the local level,” Asplund-Walsh told the delegation yesterday morning.

The commissioners’ budget proposal is a 0.23 percent increase over the 2012 budget, with a 0.29 percent increase in the amount raised by property taxes. County tax rates were kept the same between 2011 and 2012.

“Last year we were totally flat funded,” Asplund-Walsh said. “We did not add anything – nothing. There were several things taken away that department heads really needed, they needed them in their departments. . . . So we did add a few things this year but we’re still . . . in essence flat funded.

The county government includes the county attorney’s office, nursing home, department of corrections, sheriff’s office and several other departments.

Under this year’s $74.8 million budget, the county’s budget report shows that only $63.6 million was spent.

County Administrator Kathleen Bateson said the county had “quite a bit of additional revenue that was not anticipated.”

The budget has been “down to bare bone” for the past four years, Commissioner Peter Spaulding said after yesterday’s meeting.

Retirement costs for Group I county employees increased by more than 3 percent this year, and Group II retirement costs increased by 5.45 percent, according to a letter Asplund-Walsh sent last month to cities, towns and state representatives in the county.

“Most of the increases are due to retirement (costs),” Spaulding said.

Health insurance costs for the county will decrease in next year’s budget, Spaulding said. He said the county is still negotiating two contracts with unions for the Department of Corrections employees and the nurses at the county’s nursing home.

Franklin Mayor Ken Merrifield attended yesterday’s meeting and complimented the commissioners’ proposal.

“I’ve come to this room for other reasons in the past, but I want to congratulate the staff and commissioners for bringing a budget that’s essentially level-funded,” Merrifield said.

Republicans held a majority of the county delegation seats for the past two years, but Democrats won a majority in the Nov. 6 election. Yesterday morning, the delegation elected Rep. Candace Bouchard as chairwoman and Rep. Steve Shurtleff as vice chairman. Bouchard and Shurtleff are both Concord Democrats.

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

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