County property taxes up by $1.58 million


March 17, 2011
BERLIN — The county delegation of state representatives voted to authorize the county treasurer to issue his warrant of payment — or bill — to the towns and city in Cos County for $13,199,675. The vote was taken on Saturday at their annual budget meeting.

This is the sum — nearly $13.2 million — that must be raised in December from property taxes in Cos County to support county services. It's the amount of money the delegation voted to appropriate — or spend — above the county's estimated income from all other sources.

Last year, on March 13, 2010, the delegation voted to raise $11,619,625 from county property taxes — or a whopping $1,580,050 less than this year.

The delegation also voted to spend all its operating surplus of $2,219,000 from 2010 to reduce 2011 taxes. Last year a surplus of $2,477,900 from 2009 was used to reduce 2010 taxes — with approximately $260,000 more available than this year.

The economic squeeze is on, and federal stimulus monies — ARRA funds — have almost dried up.

Country treasurer Fred King of Colebrook warned that additional squeezing would likely take place. It appears the state will try to downshift what have been state Health and Human Services Department costs onto the counties, although possibly not onto the towns directly, he said. Efforts at the state level to shift MQIP monies to home support services and away from county nursing homes are very likely, King said. Since so many of the nursing home residents in Cos are Medicaid supported, this would have a particularly devastating effect and could call for a supplemental budget of up to $2.3 million.

"There are only 11 of you out of 400, and you must pound tables to make other Representatives understand the effect of cuts on the North Country and other rural areas," King said.

Rep. Duffy Daugherty of Colebrook said, however, that the only solution is to cut spending.

Rep. Bill Hatch of Gorham, a minority member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said that change in how a particular piece of legislation is written is often subtle, making it hard to figure out how Cos County could be hurt. The problem is compounded, he said, because at the same time government services are being cut, the state and region's non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and not-for-profit organizations (NPOs) are experiencing severe drops in revenue even as demand for help is rising. Hatch brought up the specter of a return to the days of town and county poor farms.

Rapidly rising gasoline prices could also throw another monkey wrench in the county's balanced books and require a supplemental budget. Sheriff Gerry Marcou successfully argued for an additional $10,000 for gasoline in his 2011 budget.

The Sheriff's Department vehicles are collectively driven between 200,000 and 240,000 miles a year. The Department uses the state Department of Transportation (NHDOT) pumps, paying at-cost prices without state or federal taxes, plus a five-cent-a-gallon administration fee. Marcou said that he was told that even this special rate could be expected to rise on June 1 up to $3.50 or even up to $4, meaning that regular retail customers would pay even more. If this should happen, other county budgets would be thrown out of whack. At the moment that county reimburses mileage at 50 cents a gallon for county employees on official business, although the allowable federal IRS rate is set at a penny more.

The only unexpected good news on the budget front came from the county's Register of Deeds, Carol Lamirande. When the price of restoring and rebinding historic deeds record books rose in price over the last three years from $750 to $1,400 each, she scouted around and found a new outfit, recently started by three experts to do the work: A. E. L. Restorations in St. Albans, Vt. The three entrepreneurs charge $850 for each volume, and Lamirande said that 11 books will be properly preserved in this fiscal year.

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