NEWPORT — The county tax bill will rise by 8.25 percent if the prepared Fiscal Year 2020 budget is accepted by the voters and by the 13-person Sullivan County Delegation. The public will have a chance to comment on Sullivan County’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget at a public hearing on June 12, 6 p.m. at the Lou Thompson Room in Newport’s Sugar River Valley Regional Tech Center.
The budget can be found on the county website, sullivancountynh.gov.
Sullivan County owns and maintains the county sheriff’s office, the house of corrections and the Sullivan County Nursing Home as well as providing grant funding for agencies such as TLC Family Resource Center, Turning Points Network, and managing county lands through its department of natural resources.
The total budget of $33,082,189 for the upcoming fiscal year includes appropriations, revenues and expenses. Expenses built into the budget — which include employee health-care premiums and other personnel costs — have increased by about 2.3 percent. However, the total budget increase from last year was kept to 1.21 percent.
The tax rate increase translates to 23 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. A home valued at $150,000 would have about $34.50 in additional annual taxes.
From 2007-2009, the county’s unreserved fund balance dipped to nearly minus $4 million. Legislators and officials recovering from those lean years began building a cushion into the budget, raising taxes to set aside a fund balance they could draw upon in need. By 2014, the county had around $7 million in its fund balance. The economy had improved, and officials set about spending down that big fund balance.
As the fund balance approaches $3 million it could run into the red again if the county continued to spend it in order to keep taxes low. The county has a structural deficit of nearly $1,500,000, which is the difference between what the county draws in taxes and what it spends yearly on services.
According to an email sent by County Manager Derek Ferland, “The County has leveraged fund balance to maintain a stable tax rate for the past 10 years, but the undesignated fund balance is approaching the limit set by county policy and the structural deficit must be addressed before the fund balance is depleted.”
Over the past decade, property taxes in Sullivan County have increased a total of 2.45 percent. At the same time, inflation increased 12.1 percent.
Last year, after its budget had been prepared, the county received an unexpected windfall of almost $2 million in ProShare funds. This was money the county had coming to it from Medicaid reimbursements, but a change in federal and state rules gave the county back more than it expected.
The ProShare funds were used to reduce the tax burden and allowed the county to reserve more funds for capital improvements.
But, “That ‘free money’ made our structural deficit worse,” said Ferland.
In order to bring revenues and expenditures back in balance, the county will have to either raise taxes or cut services.
“It would be a lot worse if we just ignored it,” said Ferland.