Published DateTo the editor,
A week or so ago, a three page, double-sided letter from the Belknap County Conservation District came in the mail, urging us to contact our N.H. House Representatives, who set the Belknap County Budget, telling them to fund the BCCD's $97,302 request because of the good work they do. This money pays for one full-time employee, some part-time seasonal employees and project consultants from the private sector. They wrote what we should say, and supplied representative contact information.
Although I have had a long time interest in local school and town politics, until now I have never really explored the county portion of my tax bill. Thanks to many recent articles and letters, I have been reading about the county budget process this year and the request from the Conservation District definitely peaked my interest. I did contact all 18 of the reps in the report — not exactly to ask them to rubber stamp this money, but telling them that it seemed like a lot of money for few services. I also had other questions about outside agency double dipping — getting money from the towns as well as asking for funding from the county — paid for by the same towns.
Many replied, and I was informed that the outside agency requests would be discussed at an upcoming sub-committee meeting which was open to the public. Having some free time, I decided to go and check out the process. First, I have to thank all of the elected officials for their time! I was there three hours and saw only two sub-committees in action. Whoever decided to paint that dark room an even darker shade of brown/gray should have watched a couple of decorating shows. Combined with the really bright lights, after three hours, my head was spinning. We don't need a new jail, just put the criminals in that room for long bouts of time.
My real concern is that everything requested seems to be worthwhile. However, as I understand the dilemma, simply stated, the county budget is up nearly 9 percent and the three member elected commission wants to spend enough of the unreserved fund balance to make it look like the budget is up only a little more than 2 percent. The reps want to actually cut the budget and save the fund balance, because the amount in the fund balance determines the bond rating. With a $40 million new jail on the horizon, we need a favorable bond rating to get decent loans.
There is a public hearing on the budget at 5 p.m. on January 21 in the County Complex — hard decisions must be made. Governments like the idea of spending their fund balances to undercut rising expenditures. However, what happens when the fund balances are at bare bones and the taxpayers are stuck with huge budgets to fund? I hope that everyone is up to making some tough decisions because I don't think spending down the savings account is the right answer! And I'm not sure a $40 million jail has my support either.