Proposed Merrimack County 2014 budget would raise 5.5 percent more in taxes
The proposed Merrimack County budget for 2014 would increase the amount to be raised in property taxes by 5.5 percent from this year, following a half-decade of modest county tax increases.
“We have held a bare-bones budget for the last five years, and I want to admit that it has not been easy at times. It has resulted in delayed purchases of new equipment, new positions, capital expenditures, no pay raises until last July for county employees,” said Peter Spaulding, chairman of the three-member county commission, which yesterday presented its proposed budget to members of Merrimack County’s House delegation.
The proposed $81.6 million budget represents a 5.9 percent increase from this year’s budget of nearly $77.1 million. On the revenue side, it would require an estimated $44.5 million in taxes, up from nearly $42.2 million this year.
Merrimack County operates a nursing home, a jail, a sheriff’s department, a prosecutor’s office and a deeds office, among other services. Its annual budget is set by the county’s 45 state representatives – currently 35 Democrats and 10 Republicans.
The final budget won’t be set until the spring. House Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff, a Penacook Democrat and chairman of the county delegation’s executive committee, said representatives will break into committees and work on the budget in the coming months.
County officials said the proposed 2014 budget increase reflects, in part, higher payments to the state for nursing home care and a 14.9 percent increase in health insurance costs, following a decrease this year of 4.8 percent.
And, they said, the 5.5 percent increase in the amount to be raised in taxes comes after an increase of just 0.6 percent over the last five years.
The 2013 budget approved earlier this year represented a 3.1 percent increase from the 2012 budget of $74.8 million, but the amount to be raised through property taxes rose just 0.2 percent.
Tax rates vary among Merrimack County’s 25 towns and two cities. In Concord, the county portion of the tax rate was up 8.3 percent this year, which Spaulding said reflects the state Department of Revenue Administration’s calculation of property valuation across the entire county.
Rep. Lorrie Carey, a Boscawen Democrat, noted yesterday that her town hosts many of the county’s facilities, including the nursing home and jail.
That nontaxable property represents a burden on residents, she said, and especially with the town tax rate jumping nearly 29 percent this year, in large part due to a nearly 15 percent drop in the assessed value of the town’s taxable property.
“We would ask you to consider, as you listen to the budget today, some relief for the town of Boscawen. . . . We are in very much a difficult situation. We are a population that is both rural and poor,” she told her fellow representatives yesterday.
And Rep. JR Hoell, a Dunbarton Republican, said he’s concerned the commissioners budgeted $4 million in revenue from the rainy day fund, which as of the end of 2012 contained nearly $12.7 million.
“Taking 30 percent of the rainy day fund to allow for the . . . increase in this year’s overall budget is a bad idea,” he said following the meeting, which drew 25 of the county’s 45 state representatives.
The county administrator, Kathleen Bateson, said that $4 million is typically included in the budget, but it hasn’t actually been used in the last four years due to stronger-than-expected revenue from other sources or lower-than-expected spending.
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)