House Speaker, Finance Chair Announce Property Tax Relief, Infrastructure Aid in House Budget
CONCORD – House Speaker Shawn Jasper and leaders of the House Finance Committee today announced details of two initiatives to be included in the House version of the state budget bills that will focus on returning money back to cities and towns. In addition to existing programs directing funds to municipalities for education funding, meals and rooms tax revenue distribution, and road betterment funds, these House budget provisions propose to increase state aid.
- $25 million per year in direct aid to cities and towns to assist with property tax relief.
- Up to $50 million from FY 2017 will be set aside to assist municipalities with infrastructure improvements, which may include roads, bridges, schools and other core projects essential to communities.
“We are committed to increasing aid to cities and towns in an effort to provide some relief to property taxpayers. With an aging population, we need to protect our seniors’ ability to stay in their homes,” said House Speaker Shawn Jasper (R-Hudson), “We also need to keep home ownership affordable for the workers and young families we need to retain in our state in order to sustain our economy. These programs will offset costs that our municipalities incur, and we hope they are the driving force in local decisions to ease the burden on local property taxpayers.”
“House members will not only be voting on a fiscally responsible budget that meets the needs of our state. This will be a vote for or against sending more money back to the communities they represent,” said House Finance committee chairman Rep. Neal Kurk (R-Weare), “Our job is to provide essential state services while keeping government affordable. The House is moving forward on the governor’s call to assist cities and towns, protect property taxpayers, and make cost effective investments in infrastructure at the local level.”
Division I of the House Finance committee will review formulas and methods for distributing the $25 million annual aid package. The proposed infrastructure program will likely utilize distribution formulas already in statute, such as those prescribed in RSA 235:23, Construction and Reconstruction Aid. These programs are in addition to municipal grant and aid funding already in place, including education aid, highway block grant aid, meals and rooms tax distribution, and other state aid programs.
I have been one of Charlestown’s State Representatives for 7 years. During that time, I have never gotten involved in local elections, and I’m not starting now. This communication is strictly to inform you of something that happened and is not an endorsement or criticism of any candidate.
NH towns are required to perform audits at least annually by TITLE III CHAPTER 41 Section 41:31-c. There are three ways you can get an auditor. Some towns elect one, some cities have an employee, and in small towns like Charlestown, you hire a CPA to do it. This is authorized in TITLE I CHAPTER 21-J Section 21-J:19. This matters because the first two types of auditor are government agents. The hired CPA is not. Part of the audit is making sure that money collected for motor vehicle transactions are correct and properly accounted for.
NH also has the strongest government record privacy laws in the nation. We have very strict criteria for who can get your information and what they can do with it. RSA 260:14 is known as the Driver Privacy Act and is enforced strictly and uniformly. I’ll admit… many NH laws are a mess and open to wide interpretation. This is not one of them. There are multiple court cases that make it clear that if a method or person is not detailed in 260:14, it simply is not allowed.
Now we tie these together. In preparation for a town audit, Kelly Stoddart read the laws before turning any records over to a private auditor. She could not find authorization in 260:14 to release DMV records to a nongovernmental contracted agent. You should know that violating 260:14 is a misdemeanor. Kelly called the Dept. of Safety and asked what she could release. They said that she could release nothing.
So, 41:31-c says that you have to do an audit. 21-J:19 says that you can hire a private CPA to do it. 260:14 says that you are guilty of a crime if you give the CPA any DMV information. Headache yet? You are probably wondering how town audits for municipalities in our situation have been happening at all (since we didn’t pass the Driver Privacy Act yesterday). The incredible answer is that it never occurred to the Dept. of Safety to ask what kind of auditor a town was using. There is no issue with the first two types. Why is it an issue this time? Kelly Stoddart is the only municipal clerk in the state who read the law for authorization before turning over your records and information. Kudos to her.
What happens now? We’re going to fix it. I was told about this problem a little less than two weeks ago. On Monday I wrote a new section for 260:14 that will let our auditor do their work. I amended it to a bill I had in my committee (being the Chairman has a few advantages). On Wednesday the House Transportation Committee passed it unanimously. The bill is on the next House Calendar for a full vote. It then goes to the Senate and should be law by June. Problem found, problem solved.
The word is probably out, Steve is cranky. It’s true, I am. While I have made some mistakes this past week, there are a lot of good opportunities for improvement. Having said that, I have some hard lines that are never crossed and you should know what they are. I interact with a lot of elected officials from across the spectrum, as well as state agency personnel. They tell me things that help me be better informed and effective. One thing I never do is give details of any of those conversations unless explicitly told to. This is an important trust issue. For example, when a constituent comes to me with a problem, many times they have to tell me details so that I can help… details that they wouldn’t like me blabbing to just anyone. I was in a meeting with some folks that I am trying to help. I mentioned that their situation was not unique. They asked me for details. I said that I just don’t do that. I was pressed at least 6 more times for those details. Instead of staying calm and explaining that to do so would violate the professional standards and ethical boundaries that I set for myself, I got mad. While their questions were inappropriate, I could have handled it a lot better. I will work on keeping my temper down.
On the other hand, I simply won’t tolerate political labels being injected into a situation that needs a solution. So, if you think it productive to ask the political party of someone involved, or ask if the “left” or the “right” is the problem… please don’t vote for me and don’t involve me. If we want solutions, the first step that we take cannot be to try to divide people. I will not apologize for getting hot with people who do this. Nothing will get better until that ends.
In the context of all this going on, I probably got combative on other topics where it was unnecessary. That is my fault alone and I have to improve on that. Representing a lightly populated area has challenges. In Concord we face voting blocks from Hillsborough and Rockingham counties. To complicate things, 4 out of our 13 Sullivan County Representatives are from Claremont, and their interests do not always align with Charlestown and the other smaller towns. We have to be creative about how we help and get things done. To accomplish anything, I have to convince 200 other Representatives, 13 Senators, and the Governor that it is a good idea. That is the process. Unless a Representative chairs a committee and controls a part of the process, none of us can say “I am going to….”. They are either pulling your chain or have no idea how state government works. So, I will try to lighten up a little when dealing with local people. In exchange, I ask that we don’t talk about political parties or ideologies, respect each other’s ethical boundaries, and just get good work done.