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Sullivan Delegates OK County Budget

Newport — It took less than 30 minutes last night for the county delegation of state representatives to approve a $30.7 million county budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The budget was approved unanimously shortly after an amendment by Rep. Steve Smith, R-Charlestown, to increase the grant given to the Community Alliance of Human Services for it transportation service failed 10-2.

Smith sought to increase the county grant from $30,000 to $40,000, arguing that the risk of cuts at the federal level from sequestration could affect the service, which many rely on for vital trips, such as getting to the doctor.

“Seems like a small amount to hedge against that (federal cuts,)” Smith said.

But Sue Gottling, D-Sunapee, chairwoman of the Executive Finance Committee, said other organizations that receive county grants, including West Central Behavioral Health, Turning Points Network and Good Beginnings of Sullivan County, also face reduced funding at the federal level.

“I believe the county is not in the position to take the place of what the federal government chooses to cut,” Gottling said. “I’d like to fund all of these requests but we are dealing with taxpayers money. We can’t do that. It is a hard decision.”

Earlier Gottling noted that total grant money from the county has increased the last few years and for the next fiscal year will go up 4.5 percent or $7,750 to $181,500 for 10 individual social services agencies. Combined, the groups requested $245,000.

After Smith’s amendment failed, the delegation approved the budget without comment.

The budget carries estimated decrease in the amount to be raised by taxes of $6,000, which the Executive Finance Committee achieved by increasing estimates for non-tax revenue for the county nursing home by $250,000, adding $50,000 from the unexpended fund balance to the figure recommended by the county commissioners and a $158,000 cut on the expense side because of a lower than expected increase in health insurance costs.

Those changes wiped out an estimated tax increase of more than $400,000 in the commissioners’ proposed budget.

“It was our desire to have no tax increase,” Gottling said.

Tax rates will be set in October by the State Department of Revenue Administration.

The main operating budget is just under $29.35 million but with the adjustments by the finance committee and money added on both the revenue and expense side for the biomass project at the county complex, the final budget comes in at $30.7 million.

“I think it is a realistic and conservative budget,” Gottling said.

County Administrator Greg Chanis said last week that while health insurance, salaries and employee retirement costs added significantly to the expenses for next year, the commissioners were able to make small and medium cuts throughout the budget to hold spending at almost the same level as this year’s.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.