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State Awards Special Highway Block Grants

By Thomas P. Caldwell

Many communities were pleasantly surprised by Monday’s announcement that they would be receiving a portion of $30 million in new state highway block grants.

Senate Bill 38, which Governor Chris Sununu signed into law on Monday, transfers the money from the state’s year-end surplus that normally would go into the revenue stabilization reserve account commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund.

“Due to responsible budgeting in FY 16-17, our state produced significant surplus that has not only grown the Rainy Day Fund, but allowed our state to return millions of taxpayer dollars to our communities,” said Senate President Chuck Morse (R-Salem). “Nearly $30 million will be returned to cities and towns to directly support critical infrastructure improvements that will benefit our citizens across the state.”

Bill Watson of the Bureau of Community Planning and Development said all of the municipalities should have the allotted funds by the end of the week.

Alexandria was slated to receive a $72,658.34 block grant, while Bridgewater’s allocation was $45,016.78, Bristol’s was $80,398.83, Danbury’s was $74,654.37, Groton’s was $22,365.19, Hebron’s was $23,796.90, and New Hampton’s was $89,565.91.

The one-time appropriation supplements the previously announced highway block grants that go out each year, doubling what the municipalities regularly receive. The state allocates around $30 million to the communities each year, an amount determined by calculating 12 percent of all highway revenues. During 2010 and 2011, the state also used money from a temporary increase in motor vehicle fees to supplement regular highway revenues.

This week’s distribution is allocated in the same way: Fifty percent is based on a town’s population and 50 percent is based on the town’s share of local road mileage. It is a non-lapsing grant which means a community does not have to spend the whole amount by the end of its fiscal year, allowing it to plan ahead to make the best use of the funds.

Bristol Town Administrator Nik Coates is one of those taken by surprise when the grants were announced. He said he would have to talk to Highway Superintendent Mark Bucklin about where the money could best be used.

“We haven't budgeted for that revenue and I'll have to talk to our Finance guy to see if that's revenue we can spend this year or have to wait until next year,” Coates said, adding that he also will be contacting the Department of Revenue Administration about how the money can be used.

“Like all towns, the needs for repairing roads and bridges are many. My guess is that we’ll do another road or part of one, or possibly repair some erosion,” Coates said. “Sadly, $80,000 doesn't get you too far.”

Watson said it is important for municipalities to work through the Department of Revenue Administration. “There still is a process to accept and expend money, and the DRA and N.H. Municipal Association are there to support the towns,” he said.

27 July 2017

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