Litchfield’s Selectmen’s Voodoo Math Attacks Default Budget

January 17, 2014
by Doug Robinson

The Litchfield Board of Selectmen, at their January 6 meeting, cut the default budget by $90,000.  What this means is that, should the voters not approve the upcoming 2015 budget during the spring elections, then the Town of Litchfield will be hit with a 2 percent cut in operating expenses from this year’s 2014 budget.

RSA 40-13, IX (b) states:

“Default budget” as used in this subdivision means the amount of the same appropriations as contained in the operating budget authorized for the previous year, reduced and increased, as the case may be, by debt service, contracts, and other obligations previously incurred or mandated by law, and reduced by one-time expenditures contained in the operating budget.  For the purposes of this paragraph, one-time expenditures shall be appropriations not likely to recur in the succeeding budget, as determined by the governing body, unless the provisions of RSA 40:14-b are adopted, of the local political subdivision.

To paraphrase, a default budget may be altered should a prior year expense be a onetime event (such as buying a police vehicle), a contract (such as the third year of a contract that does not extend further), debt service change (such as the rate for the purchase of water) or mandated by law.

The Litchfield Board of Selectmen chose to go line by line as they viewed the default budget and chose to make default budget cuts to the tune of over $90,000.  Their review of the default budget disregarded the proposed 2015 budget and cuts were made, at what appeared, at will.

Most of Litchfield’s departments, should the default budget be the adopted budget, would face financial cuts which would result in an operating budget below this year’s operating budget.

In speaking with Litchfield’s Town Administrator, Jason Hoch, he commented, “This was a yearly analysis.”

During the discussion, Litchfield Selectmen wrestled with default budgets in most departments.  Administrative postage amounts were challenged, gas usage accounts were reviewed and accounts involving publication expenses were discussed.

For example, the Litchfield Board of Selectmen challenged the current year default budget amount for the planning department budget of $100 in books.  They made an adjustment to the default budget to this line to make the default budget $16.

During the cutting process, at no time was a reason given as to why the proposed budget number had not been adjusted to reflect an appropriate dollar amount.

“The last part of the budget process is the calculation of the default budget,” commented Litchfield Town Administrator Jason Hoch.  “It is the responsibility of the Selectmen to present the correct default budget.  It has been the tradition of this board to do a line by line analysis.”

During the meeting, Hoch, responding to a default budget cut stated, “If the number goes down, I am not entirely sure your one time reductions … meet the one time test.”

Selectman Frank Byron commented, “The law gives us the ability to give and take.”

The Town of Litchfield voters will soon be casting their ballot to approve the proposed 2015 budget for $5,130.166.  The default budget will be $5,006,611, or, as a result of the Litchfield Board of Selectmen’s actions, result in $90,000 less than the operating budget now in effect.

The Board voted 3-1-0, with Byron voting “nay” to the new default budget.