UNITY – Sullivan County lawmakers voted this week to approve a $ 34.3 million budget that opponents called “shortsighted” for failing to set aside enough money for a planned renovation of longtime county retirement home.
The Democratic-controlled delegation voted, 8-5, on almost partisan lines Tuesday to approve a spending plan for fiscal 2022 that officials say will increase the county’s share of property taxes by 3.8%.
This is a cut from the budget presented earlier this year by the Republican-led Sullivan County Commission, which proposed a $ 34.6 million plan that would have seen taxes rise by nearly 10%.
Democrats celebrated the vote, saying the approved budget is responsive to residents still recovering from the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawmakers have reduced the fiscal burden on the budget “without reducing any program, person or essential part of the county,” State Representative Brian Sullivan D-Grantham told colleagues.
But others have criticized the spending plan to plunder money set aside to help pay for a $ 54 million renovation of the Sullivan County nursing home.
State Representative Walter Spilsbury, R-Charlestown, was the only Republican to vote for the budget.
The delegation chose to forgo investing $ 200,000 in a nursing home reserve fund that county officials intended to use to help pay for upgrades to the aging infrastructure of the establishment of 156 beds. Lawmakers also took an additional $ 600,000 earmarked for the project and used it to lower the tax rate, according to County Manager Derek Ferland.
If the retirement home project moves forward, he said on Wednesday, taxpayers will now have to foot a larger portion of the bill, which could lead to double-digit tax increases.
County commission chairman George Hebert raised similar concerns at Tuesday’s meeting, calling the budget a “reckless disregard for the county’s financial future.”
Hebert added that he was skeptical that politicians would follow through on their promise to move forward with the Unity Nursing Home Project, which involves emptying a building, making cosmetic improvements to an another building and demolish a third to free up space for an 82,000 square foot building. addition.
“When it comes to words versus actions, I believe in actions and I will believe it when I see it because so far what I have seen has been disturbing,” he said during the approximately one-hour meeting, held virtually and in person at the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center in Claremont.
State Representative Judy Aron R-South Acworth also expressed frustration with the budget, saying the delegation’s reluctance over the nursing home means it will likely have to spend an additional $ 60,000 on additional studies to determine an accurate price.
This money, she pointed out, is not in the spending plan.
“When are we going to start seeing nursing home staff and resident losses because no one is going to want to work or live there?” asked Aron. “Are we preparing for these losses? No.”
Democrats countered that some of the money in the budget could be used for a first interest payment on retirement home loans and that they pledged to find a cheaper solution.
“I think the delegation, the whole delegation, feels that a retirement home renovation is really necessary. There is no doubt in my mind or in anyone else’s mind that this is the case, ”said State Representative Linda Tanner, D-Georges Mills, during a telephone interview on Wednesday.
However, “we are not a rich country,” she said, adding that compromises will have to be found. The delegation plans to hold a meeting later this month to discuss next steps for the nursing home.
Ferland, the county manager, said the budget made few changes to operations and included two staff changes – a reduction of one post in the Corrections Department and more hours for a part-time sheriff’s deputy.
Grafton County officials on Monday approved a budget of $ 48.7 million that nearly levels operations at North Haverhill.
The county delegation voted, 25-1, to adopt a spending plan that should not raise taxes and result in a 0.44% increase in new spending.
The nearly unanimous vote is the result of a bipartisan effort to keep costs low during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Wendy Piper, D-Enfield, who chairs the Grafton County Commission.
“We have done this for the benefit of our constituents, to provide services and to continue to provide quality services by the county, but also to recognize that the county budget cannot always grow continuously,” he said. she said Wednesday in an interview.
The budget includes a 2% cost of living increase for unionized employees. He also assumes that health insurance rates will increase by 3% and that payments to the New Hampshire Retirement System are expected to increase between 11% and 33%.
These would be offset by a reduction of $ 117,800 in debt payments and over $ 650,000 in funding for integrated delivery networks or health services that provide support for mental health and substance abuse. .
Tim Camerato can be contacted at email@example.com or 603-727-3223.