Monday, December 5, 2016

Why the Taxpayers Don't Really have any Say on the County Budget and a Little More on the Commissioner's Budget.

I attended the County budget public hearing last December and for many in the room, it was the first exposure to the 2016 budget. It was also the first time that the delegation met to discuss the budget publicly. Hardly the best time for a public hearing being that the final budget is still months away from finalization, but the law is very specific as to the timing of the whole process.
  • The commissioners are required to deliver or mail a draft budget to the incoming county convention,the  chairperson of the board of selectmen in each town and the mayor of each city the county as well as to the secretary of state prior to December 1.
  • RSA 24:23 "Not earlier than 5 nor later than 20 days after the mailing of the commissioners' statement there shall be held within the county at such time and place as the chairperson of the county convention may specify, a public hearing on the budget estimates as submitted by the commissioners. "
  • RSA 24:21-a  III. "No county convention shall vote appropriations for the ensuing budget period until 28 days shall have elapsed from the mailing of such recommendations.
  • RSA 24:14 "The county convention shall adopt the annual budget within 90 days after the beginning of the county's fiscal year
Beyond that, there are no other requirements in the law for public hearing of the budget in either it's various iterations or it's final form, before the delegation approves it.
That is the point here. This year, the budget was not approved until the very end of March and can even occur outside the county in Concord.  Nothing in the RSA's would prevent the delegation holding a public hearing before the budget is signed off. When you think about it, the first meeting is not much more than a formality. It lasted just 30 minutes last year (December 7th) and the public was not privy to the questions that the delegation members have as Chair Umberger "  ..asked if representatives have budget questions they be sent to her and she  will collate and send them to the county administrator. When she receives answers she will forward those to all members of the delegation. "
(Personally, I would have ignored that " request" and go right to the county administrator myself.)
So what is the point of the public hearing? Does the public have any influence at that point on the county budget? Not so much, as none of the commissioner's budget has even been publicly discussed by the delegation so it is far from a final product. 
A public hearing before the final budget is approved, after all the agita has passed  and delegation bloviation is over, would allow the public to have some input before it is finalized. Maybe a formal presentation so that the hows and whys can be clearly understood? 
Perhaps one of our delegation members can propose legislation that would open up the delegation budget process to increased public input by requiring a public hearing at the end of the process, when it counts vs. the beginning when it is meaningless. 
==================
The proposed budget as indicated in a previous post, has a few important caveats.
A number of things are outside the control of the commissioners and are the primary driver of the increases:
  • Beaurau of Elderly Affairs and Services ( BEAS) increased by $325,000. The bottom line on this state agency is that they set the rate and the counties pay. The formula they use to derive this funding is one of the great mysteries of our time, right up there with the location of Jimmy Hoffa and the existence of intelligent life ( earth included) anywhere in our universe. 
  • As with Moultonboro, a huge increase in health insurance of $268.000.00.
These two items alone amount to just under $600,000. The commissioners are seeking a small contingency fund of $100,000  and funding for the White Horse Treatment Center of $75,000.
The remaining $16K or so is the actual increase if you agree that  the drug epidemic is worth fighting and a contingency fund is important for budget planning. 





7 comments:

Fred Van Magness said...

A couple of comments.....
1. Interesting that the county increase in medical insurance is essentially the same as Moultonborough although I suspect there may be many more employees at the county than here in town. Has anyone ever data mined the county insurance coverages and made comparisons?
2. What plans does the BOS have to invite the county commissioners to Moultonborough to explain their budget increases and the implications for our town taxes?
I am no fan of the county operation and their budget expenses after the debacle two years ago. In my opinion, some functions of county are an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy that should be dissolved by the state.

Tom Howard said...

I like the idea of inviting a delegation member(s) to "propose legislation that would open up the delegation budget process to increased public input by requiring a public hearing at the end of the process". Who among the delegation is willing to stand up to the task for the benefit of their constituents?

Joseph Cormier said...

Some MoBo taxpayers did, indeed, attend the Dec. 7, 2015 County Meeting.

http://www.governmentoversite.com/delegation/carroll-county/2015-12-07

Go to 18:45 of the video for some MoBo input.

And go to 28:25

The $42 million bogus revenue number had a $14 million dollar "typo" in the budget.
That had "something" to do with the added $2 million tax MoBo got surcharged, and after pointing out the bogus revenue, the subsequent $2 million dollar surplus!!!!!!!!!!!!!!




Fred Van Magness said...

Joe, great comments. But once the "error" was found, where did M'boro get that surplus BACK ? I don't recall ever seeing it.

Joseph Cormier said...

Fred, I don't believe MoBo, nor any other town, got any kind of rebate, or even acknowledgement that the budget numbers were messed-up. I can remember at that meeting, Ken Robichaud, the newly hired county administrator, asked me to go out into the lobby, just outside the meeting room, and asked where the revenue number was in question. He thanked me for the info and we were asked to return to the meeting.

The county tax rate has not significantly changed from last year, when it jumped up to 1.42.

http://www.moultonboroughnh.gov/tax-collector/pages/tax-rate-history

My humble opinion is, once government gets tax money, it doesn't give back.

Some other background on County:

"we reported a $2.9 million dollar surplus (MS45) in 2013"

http://www.newhampshirelakesandmountains.com/Articles-Carroll-County-Independent-c-2015-04-08-160173.113119-County-treasurer-resigns-criticizes-delegations-2015-budget.html

I won't go into the county employee retirements in the previous June.

Some positive change has occurred, that should "correct" some of the fiasco at County. Two out of three, newly elected commissioners, added to the newly created/hired positions of county administrator and finance director.

Kudos, in my humble opinion, to Rep. Cordelli for pushing for a forensic audit. Albeit a "forensic" audit may not come to fruition, standard audits of the last five years or so, that I think have not been completed yet, have been beneficial to transparency in the county government.






Moultonboro Blogger said...

It remains to be seen whether Cordelli will continue on his witch hunt and spend even more of our tax dollars for a useless forensic audit. The $139K plus could be put to better use to reduce the tax levy. The audits are all completed for the past 5 years. New people are on board and the county is ready to move forward. I hope that Cordelli and the rest of the " mini exec" committee will finally begin to work for us by working together with the commissioners and administration.

William M Marsh said...

"I like the idea of inviting a delegation member(s) to "propose legislation that would open up the delegation budget process to increased public input by requiring a public hearing at the end of the process". Who among the delegation is willing to stand up to the task for the benefit of their constituents?" -- Tom Howard

Tom, I do not understand the process myself (yet) and the date for filing legislation has passed (Dec. 2 for House, Senators have longer). However, given a better understanding of the process on my part, and a very specific proposal from my constituents, I am certainly willing to make such a proposal.
Feel free to email me.

"It remains to be seen whether Cordelli will continue on his witch hunt and spend even more of our tax dollars for a useless forensic audit. The $139K plus could be put to better use to reduce the tax levy. The audits are all completed for the past 5 years. New people are on board and the county is ready to move forward. I hope that Cordelli and the rest of the " mini exec" committee will finally begin to work for us by working together with the commissioners and administration. " ?Paul

My understanding from my time as Treasurer on the Huggins Hospital Board of Trustees is that the purpose of a forensic audit is to collect evidence to take someone to court. The Commissioners are making a much more limited proposal, and as best I can tell the Delegation does not have the power to compel a full forensic audit. I have asked the new County Attorney to give an opinion as to whether the statute of limitations would prevent a court case from going forward -- if (as I suspect) she says it would then we have another good reason to not spend the taxpayers money in this way.

William M Marsh, Carroll County 8
william.marsh@leg.state.nh.us