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Sullivan, Grafton County Budgets Approved

Lawmakers in Grafton and Sullivan counties this week approved fiscal year 2015 county budgets that hold spending close to the rate of inflation.

And officials in Grafton County also got some good news on another front — higher-than-expected federal Medicaid reimbursements freed up the $800,000 needed to undertake life-safety upgrades and other renovations at the county nursing home in North Haverhill.

The Grafton County delegation on Monday approved a county budget of just under $39 million by a 15-4 vote, with Republicans Rick Ladd, of Haverhill, Edmond Gionet, of Lincoln, Brad Bailey, of Monroe and Skip Reilly, of Hill, opposed.

Delegation Chairman Andy White, D-Lebanon, said the budget passed as recommended by the Executive Committee and represents a 2.7 percent increase in spending and a 2.5 percent increase in taxes.

White said that Grafton County learned this month it is receiving $1.7 million in Medicaid “proshare” reimbursements, money intended to help offset Medicaid costs incurred at the county-run nursing home. That’s about $900,000 more than the county expected to get.

“Because of the excess proshare, we are going to be able to pay for the nursing home fire code and life-safety improvements out of that money, so we’re not going to have to bond for anything,” White said.

County officials discovered this spring that a section of the nursing home that was built in 1969 had some chases within walls that weren’t properly compartmentalized, and which could allow smoke and fire to spread quickly.

The cost to fix the fire-code issues, and also remodel some showers in that building, is expected to be $800,000.

Grafton County lawmakers on Monday voted to take the excess Medicaid money and put it into the nursing home’s capital reserve account, where it will be used for the upgrades, which are expected to begin in November, Julie Clough, Grafton County’s executive director, said.

“I think it’s absolutely good news,” Clough said of the surplus money, because the county can undertake the renovations “and it won’t have any tax impact on the taxpayers.”

Meanwhile, in Sullivan County, lawmakers on Tuesday evening unanimously approved a $29.8 million county budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

With some reductions made by the Executive Finance Committee and the delegation’s decision to use an additional $5,000 from the fund balance, the budget will not raise county taxes next year for any of the 15 municipalities.

Originally, county commissioners recommended a budget that would have added 3 cents per $1,000 to the county tax rates in each of the communities. But reductions in that proposal of slightly more than $29.8 million coupled with the increase from the fund balance from $95,000 to $100,000, the estimated tax increase was eliminated.

Overall the budget is up about $600,000 from the current year, after $1.5 million is deducted from this year’s $30.7 million budget for the one-time expense and revenue associated with the new biomass plant. The amount to be raised by taxes remains at about $13.88 million.

The budget increase includes $709,000 in 13 separate capital projects which will be paid for using the county’s fund balance. These projects include $325,000 for paving the county complex in Unity and $210,000 for a new roof on the Stearns building in Unity, which is used for administration and meetings.

County Administrator Jesse Levine said earlier this month that switching to a higher deductible health insurance plan for county employees cut premiums by 40 percent and that in turn reduced the annual “transfer” needed to cover reimbursement shortfalls for Medicaid and Medicare at the nursing home from $1.9 million to $300,000. There is also an increase in the bed rate at the nursing home, which will bring in more on the revenue side. Levine said the taxpayer subsidy for the nursing home is expected to drop about $1.5 million next fiscal year.

Overall, the Sullivan County budget is increasing by roughly 2 percent.

The consumer price index, a common measure of inflation, increased 2.1 percent in the past 12 months, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

John Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com or 603-727-3217.

Correction

Although spending in the newly approved $29.8 million fiscal year 2015 Sullivan County budget is expected to increase by about 2 percent, lawmakers are using surplus funds to avoid a tax increase. A jump-page headline in the print edition of this story mischaracterized the tax impact.