For 2016 the Town Manager has proposed over forty tax impact warrant articles to the Board of Selectmen in addition to the operating budget. Although the 2016 operating budget itself is fairly flat when compared with last year’s budget, the basic ploy here is to have the voters pass on a line item by line item basis a series of spending initiatives, which if all passed would represent an extraordinary increase in the Town portion of the real estate property tax bills.
Here are some of our early observations addressing property taxes over the two-year period from 2014 to 2016:
- Even though the proposed 2016 Operating Budget is essentially flat at this point, if all of the “draft” Warrant Articles submitted by the Town Manager to the Selectmen were placed on the ballot and pass, 2016 tax effect spending would increase by $7.7 million or 26% over 2015.
- The Town part of last year’s 2014 tax rate was $7.24. Unless revenues exceed plan, we estimate that the 2015 tax rate, which will be reflected in next month’s tax bill, will include a Town portion of $8.28.
- If the Selectmen don’t approve the use any of the Unassigned Fund Balance to reduce the 2015 tax rate, up to this point there has been no public review of the tax rate by the Selectmen, the average single-family home will see a $340 or 14% increase over 2014, that’s just the town portion of next month’s tax bill and does not include the schools.
- Moving along to 2016, there is no indication in the language of any of the Town Manager’s 2016 proposed warrant articles of any of them being bonded, despite three being over $1 million, thus the tax impact would hit all at once, as opposed to being spread over a number of years.
- Plugging our 2016 tax effect spending estimate of $37,013,702, which is based on the Manager’s proposed Operating budget and warrant articles, results in an estimated 2016 Town rate of $11.06.
- An $11.06 Town portion tax rate for 2016 would represent a 53%, $1,260 increase over 2014 on an average single-family home.
These estimates do not include any privately petitioned warrant article or costs related to Collective Bargaining Agreements. There are 5 Town employee union contracts under negotiations and it is the Selectmen’s stated intent to have all 5, with their associated costs, on the March 2016 ballot.
The Budget Committee made a request to see copies of these “drafts”, but the Town Manager and the Selectmen denied the request. The Town Manager erroneously stated that drafts are not subject to the “Right to Know Law”, RSA 91-A. In fact, under 91-A, any document not deemed confidential that has been circulated to the Selectmen is considered public information. Further it is imperative that the Selectmen stop using the lack of transparency for political advantage and have a complete discussion of the warrant articles so the public can understand the strategy being deployed by the Town Manager and Department heads. So far we find that there has been a pattern of stifling conversation and debate and that Selectmen Woolsey appears to be the only one that has the interests of the general public at heart.
Having this many warrant articles may either turn prospective voters off from voting, since it will be difficult to wade through these items, and special interests will prevail, or it will create a backlash against this Board of Selectmen. It is the intention of the Rational Taxpayers of Hampton to publish these items on our website and make them easily accessible to the public and provide our opinion whether they are merit worthy. In the meantime, we urge the Selectmen make an effort to balance the Town Manager and Department Heads perceived needs with the impact on the taxpayer and not to steamroll these warrant proposals. In addition, the Selectmen need to quickly shift gears, end the hostility directed towards the Budget Committee and move to a more cooperative approach.