Grafton County’s proposed budget keeps spending in check

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/28/2021 10:24:20 PM
Modified: 5/28/2021 10:24:18 PM

NORTH HAVERHILL — Grafton County officials are proposing a “nearly level-funded budget” for the upcoming fiscal year, despite cost increases attributed to state downshifting and losses stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The three-member County Commission is recommending a $48.6 million budget for the 2022 fiscal year, which amounts to a 0.3%, or $145,200, increase over the county’s current spending plan.

In a letter to municipalities, commissioners say much of that increase is due to fixed costs, such as wages and benefits.

For instance, employees not affiliated with one of the county’s unions have agreed to a 2% cost of living adjustment, as have union employees working at the county nursing home, according to the letter, which is dated May 10.

Meanwhile, health insurance rates are expected to increase by more than 3%, and payments to the New Hampshire Retirement System are set to increase anywhere between 11% and 33%.

The retirement increases alone amount to an almost $500,000 increase, according to the commissioners’ letter.

“This is a direct pass down from the State of NH to fund the NH Retirement System,” the letter said. “There is no negotiation of these rates.”

Officials also predict that payments to the state for long-term care expenses and home- and community-based services will go up by 2%, or $249,300.

No new positions are recommended in the spending plan.

Savings in the proposed budget include a $117,800 reduction in debt payments, and more than $650,000 for funding for integrated delivery networks, or health care services that provide aid for mental health and substance misuse.

The commissioners also cut $80,000 for two agencies that run juvenile restorative justice programs.

Officials say they plan to use $1 million from surplus funds to cover revenue losses in the sheriff’s office, county farm and nursing home.

If the commission’s budget is approved by Grafton County’s delegation next month, the amount to be raised by taxes would increase by roughly 0.56%, or almost $152,000.

However, county taxes traditionally are the smallest portion of New Hampshire property taxes. For instance, Lebanon residents in 2020 paid $1.86 per $1,000 of a property’s assessed value to fund county operations, according to the state Department of Revenue Administration.

That’s $465 on a $250,000 home.

By comparison, the school district’s portion of the same home’s property tax bill is roughly $3,320.

“In closing, it is a constant struggle to find balance between meeting the county’s obligations and the impact that has on the taxpayers,” the commissioners’ letter said. “This has been a particularly challenging year in terms of funding that balance.”

The county delegation’s executive committee will meet throughout June to determine a final 2022 budget, which will then go before the full delegation.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@ or 603-727-3223.

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