Fund balance to offset tax increase in Grafton County

By PATRICK O’GRADY

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 06-23-2023 1:10 PM

NORTH HAVERHILL — The delegation of state representatives from Grafton County are expected to vote Monday on a proposed $53.77 million budget.

The proposal represents a nearly 8% increase in spending from the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Though proposed spending is up $3.9 million, the amount to be raised by taxes is projected to decrease by about $16,000 with the use of $7 million of the county’s fund balance to offset taxes.

In a May letter to the delegation on the budget, Grafton County Commissioners initially proposed using $6.4 million of the county’s undesignated fund balance to offset taxes. The commissioners approved spending increases after a public hearing in late May along with an increase in the fund balance use to a little more than $7 million, which is a $2 million increase from the current year.

The commissioners said the recommended amount to be held in reserve is between 8% and 16% of the annual budget and the county is comfortably in that range even after $7 million is added to revenues for next year’s budget.

“By increasing the amount of fund balance to be used to offset taxes, Grafton County will still have a remaining balance of 16%,” the commissioners said before the use of fund balance was increased to $7 million. “This is a healthy undesignated fund balance within the County’s policy.”

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The commissioners said staffing shortages in nursing and the Department of Corrections are the county’s biggest challenges, and efforts are being made to improve recruitment and retention of employees in these two departments.

County Manager Julie Libby said that after the budget hearing last month, the county added “targeted increases” for salaries in nursing and corrections totaling $2.36 million of which $1.9 million is for nursing. Libby said their expectation is that the county will be able to hire more employees in both departments and reduce the expense of contracted employees for nursing by $500,000.

“Contract agencies have been able to take advantage of the nationwide nursing shortage and charge very high rates for us to use these services,” the commissioners said.

The county also will pay the state $100,000 less than was projected for the “county cap,” which is paid to the state for long-term care expenses. Another decrease is in bonded debt as a 2002 bond for the nursing home addition is being paid off, reducing the budget by $725,000.

The county is projecting an increase in operating revenue of about 10%, which includes a $1.5 million increase in nursing home revenue. Interest income has an estimated increase of $325,000 as a result of higher interest rates.

The nursing home population is beginning to recover from the significant decrease attributed to COVID.

“Though we continue to face staffing issues that present challenges with the census, we are optimistic that we can get back to an increased census with the staffing levels we have,” the commissioners said.

Expenses for water and sewer are projected to rise 7% and 8% respectively and electricity costs will “perhaps double,” increasing more than $370,000.

The delegation’s vote is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. at the Grafton County Administration Building in North Haverhill.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.