Top ten town budget concerns

by Richard Barnes

It’s that time of year again, time for towns to sit down and calculate their annual budgets. Here are the top ten things to stay vigilant of.

1) The incorrectly calculated default budget

RSA 40:13 IX b states that the default budget is last year’s budget “reduced by one-time expenditures contained in the operating budget”.  You will find many NH towns do no do this, thus creating an artificially high default budget leaving voters without true choice. Towns will also use very generic line items in their budget books to allow vastly different new expenses to be classified under the same item year after year, thus not a one time expense. Watch for it!

2) Slight of hand

Towns and schools use what I like to call slight of hand when trying to sell their new budget to the people. Most often when budgets are going up you wont see last years bottom line compared to the current bottom line.They use the bottom line of the incorrectly calculated default or some other arbitrary number to confuse you.

3) The lie that they actually cut

Ever read how many millions were cut and still find the bottom line larger than the year before? They do this time and time again. They show how much was cut from the suggested amounts. This is like your son who currently gets a $10 a week allowance to come up to you and request $20 a week, to which you agree to only $15 then he turns and claims you cut his allowance by $5 a week. It’s not true so don’t fall for it.

4) You can’t follow what you don’t understand

How many of you have actually tried to follow a town or school budget book? Not much to say about it other than yuck!

5) The misc line item

Towns and schools can spend only what they have a line item in their budget books for. For this reason you’ll see line items generically defined so they can get away with charging anything they want as long as there is enough padding in the budget.

6) More padding then a football player

Try a little experiment sometime. Look at the past 10 years or so for your town at how much was budgeted vs. how much was actually spent. You’ll see budgets tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars over what is actually spent. Look a little further and try to find out how many non-budgeted items (see #5) are actually being spent on each year and you’ll start to see the big picture.

7) Fear of Lay offs

People have somehow come to think of government as an employment agency. Sometimes jobs are no longer needed. Sometimes streamlining a business is good. Don’t fear letting go of a town or school employee who may no longer be needed.

8) Fear of Police and Fire cuts

That’s always the fallback for big spenders. If you look through your town’s budget book my guess, you will find that 60 to 70 percent of the money goes into items they wouldn’t careless about if they were cut but that isn’t what big spenders claim will be cut if cuts are made. Oh no, it’s always police and fire because that is what people actually want from local government.

9) Services

“You can’t cut without impacting services”. That's another chant from the tax and spend group but often times most of us don't want or need many services. They wont define which services would need to be cut either so everyone fears it would be something they actually use the town for. Folks, even if your service was cut there is so much extra spending in the budget you could often times get more than enough money back from lowered taxes that you could then donate to get the service you wanted back.

10) The voters supported it argument

You’ll find that big spenders will fall back on saying, people haven’t voted down the budget even though it was an increase over the year before as justification for more spending. Watch out because some will even use the percent of people who supported the budget as an argument for more spending even when the budget from the year before was HIGHER than the default budget.

So be warned and be active and don’t be afraid to say no.


Richard Barnes is a current member of the Merrimack School Budget Committee and previously served as a member Merrimack Municipal Budget Committee from 2004 to 2006.  In 2006 he was endorsed by the grass roots group Merrimack Cares in his bid for School Board.  He also served in various roles including as the National President of Alpha Phi Delta Fraternity, a national Italian American Fraternal organization. He also volunteers with the Merrimack Historical Society and on the Town of Merrimack’s Web Technology Exploratory Committee.  He is a registered Republican who classifies himself as a Constitutionalist.