My Turn: In Belknap County, slash and burn tactics
To my fellow Belknap County Delegation members:
I have been uncomfortable with the entire county budget process. It bears no resemblance to the open, reasonable process I participated in from 2006 to 2010. I agree with Sanbornton Rep. Dennis Fields when he says he has never seen anything like this.
I was impressed when I saw that the county commissioners had proposed a budget request that was lower than last year’s. When I first became a member of the county delegation six years ago, the county was in disarray. The county administrator and commissioners have worked hard to make the county more efficient and effective. The number of employees has been significantly reduced over the past four years and administrative roles have been centralized, saving the county money.
I was shocked when it became clear that the majority of the delegation was determined to make deep cuts in an already thin budget. They are targeting our county employees. This seems unwise at a time when demand for these services is high.
I can only imagine how this makes our hardworking county employees feel, as they try to do more and more, with less and less. I have heard testimony from some comparing the wages and benefits of our employees to those in the private sector. The truth is when you factor in education and experience, public sector workers earn 11 to 12 percent less than their private counterparts.
I have heard members of the delegation complain that our employees do not pay as high a percentage of their health insurance as other public employees do. They do not seem to recognize that many of those who pay a slightly higher percentage of their health care insurance also receive dental insurance, disability insurance and life insurance as a part of their benefits package, while Belknap County employees do not.
The county is a large professional organization that provides many necessary services to the public. Most employees possess specific certifications or licenses in their areas of expertise. They are held to high performance and ethical standards.
It seems foolish to continue denying that we have any responsibility for union contracts. We should not continue to close our eyes to the fact that with or without approved contracts, much of the funding that has been eliminated from this budget will still have to be paid for.
The way to reduce taxpayer burdens is to find creative solutions for providing services, not these slash and burn tactics. It would be nice if we were taking a look at what sort of community we are interested in creating and who we might want to attract to live here. Is this a race to the bottom? We have all heard of or know someone who has hit hard times; should we be trying to put more constituents in to the same difficult situation?
Lastly, I have been offended by how the delegation has treated the county commissioners. They are elected by the same people who elected us. I see no reason to usurp their elected responsibilities. It is our job to determine the bottom line when it comes to the county budget. We should fill in the blanks on the “Statement of County Appropriations and Revenue as Voted” and leave the line item determinations to the commissioners.
(State Rep. Beth Arsenault is a Democrat representing Laconia and Belmont.)