It was recently reported that the average 2016 tax bill for a single-family home in Hampton decreased by $200 from the prior year. This was based upon the town’s Finance Director using an inaccurate comparative of $377,800 for the 2016 average assessed value of a single-family home. That amount did not include water front property, which had been included in all prior year’s calculations. To her credit, after a former Selectmen questioned the $377,800 amount the Finance Director acknowledged that it did not include waterfront properties and that the average 2016 average assessment for a single-family home is in fact $404,200. What was not reported is that when compared on a consistent basis, the taxes on a single-family home with an average assessment actually increased by $175, as opposed to the $200 decrease reported at the prior meeting. Reporting figures with inadequate review for their consistency and accuracy is a disservice to the taxpayers.
At the October 31st meeting the Selectmen approved wage increases for management personnel that are well above the cost of living and were not included in the 2016 budget approved by the voters. These increases included a 6% increase for the Town manager. Assistant Town Manager Sullivan was given a 3% increase to his $82,000 salary for a 32-hour workweek, which is addition to the $116,000 pension he collects that is primarily funded by property taxpayers. To their credit, Selectmen Waddell and Griffin voted against these increases, appearing to recognize the approval process as an end run around the voters. Selectmen Bean, Bridle and Barnes voted in favor of the increases. Couple this with 4% proposed increases to the Fire and Police Departments and it’s beginning to add up. However, we find ourselves confused by the Finance Director’s summary of the budget totals provided at the end of the meeting when she reported that the 2017 proposed budget is $26,894,639, $263,868 over the 2016 budget and $364,197 less than Default budget. A few minutes later she reported the 2017 Default budget at $26,489,103. Based on her numbers the proposed 2017 Operating budget is actually $405,536 more than the Default budget as opposed to the $364,187 less she reported. The comparative to the 2016 budget also appears to be inaccurate. We understand and accept that people can make mistakes, but unfortunately the Selectmen have refused to make the 2017 budget under their review available to the Budget Committee and the public making it nearly impossible to follow their discussions. This lack of transparency is a radical departure from past practice.
Let’s not also forget that there is also a ticking time bomb out there related to the Town’s increases in contributions to the New Hampshire Retirement System whose paltry investment returns of 1% and lack of state contributions will put an enormous strain on Hampton in the years to come. Since 2005 these costs have risen 127%, far outrunning the 39% increase for health insurance. There doesn’t appear to be a sincere interest on the part of the State Legislature to reform employee benefits associated with the under funded Retirement System. The process of kicking the can down the road and downshifting expenses to the local taxpayers is the legislature’s modus operandi. But there is a message that the Board of Selectmen, Town Management and respective Department Heads must listen to and that is to have a moral and fiscal obligation to the Taxpayers of Hampton to WATCH COSTS AND MANAGE TAX INCREASES.