Standoff: Commissioners have no intention of allowing staff to provide Belknap Convention with line-by-line budget to vote on
Published Date Written by Michael KitchLACONIA — Push will likely come to shove between the Belknap County Convention and the Belknap County Commission when the convention meets next week in anticipation of voting to adopt the 2013 county budget.
This week the convention fashioned a package of revenue adjustments and expense reductions totaling $1,218,680, just shy of the Republican majority's target of $1.3-million. The measures would decrease the amount raised by property taxes originally recommended by the commission from $15,299,610, representing an 8.9-percent increase, to $14,080,960 an increase of 0.3-percent.
The convention has thus far taken preliminary votes to raise estimated revenues by $600,500 and cut proposed appropriations by $618,180. Reductions in compensation and benefits for county employees amount to approximately $372,000. Another $150,000 was trimmed from the nursing home budget while the elimination of new positions made up most of the balance of the cuts.
Earlier the commission offered to modify its original budget proposal with a mix of increased revenues and decreased expenditures amounting to $1,219,500. Although there are common elements in the two plans, the convention drew $250,000 from fund balance to supplement revenues while the commission proposed using twice that. Both plans eliminated funding for step raises, but the convention also stripped bonuses for unused sick time and longevity of services along with funds to defray the entire 7.3-percent jump in the cost of health insurance premiums.
Throughout the budget process the Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), chair of the convention, supported by most of her 12 Republican colleagues among the 18 members of the convention, has insisted that the convention possesses the authority to rewrite the budget proposed by the commission by adding or deleting, raising or lowering particular line items.
With equal resolve the three county commissioners claim that the authority of the convention is limited. This week the commission received a legal opinion prepared by Donahue, Tucker & Ciandella of Exeter upholding its position. In particular, the opinion holds that the convention must itemize appropriations in accord with the "Statement of County Appropriations and Revenue as Voted," or MS-42 form.
The MS-42 lists appropriations under 13 categories, encompassing for the major county departments and functions, revenues under five categories. It closes with a summary of the total appropriations and revenues and the amount to be raised by taxes. The form is signed by the chair and clerk of the convention and submitted to the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration, which authorizes the county to tax, using the municipalities as collectors.
While the convention has worked from the budget document presented by the commissioners, from time to time Worsman has distributed spreads sheets of her own design as well as as requested additional information from county administrators.
However, this week, in preparing to vote on the budget next week, the convention voted to require the administration assign account numbers to line items it had added to the budget and to create additional accounts, especially for the salaries of individual department heads.
Both John Thomas of Belmont, the chairman of the commission, and Commissioner Ed Philpot of Laconia reminded the convention that the commission supervised the county administration.
"They don't work for you," Philpot said.
When the commissioners met yesterday they agreed that when the convention is prepared to vote on the budget, which could be next week, it will be presented with the MS-42 form, not a line item budget it wants formatted to its own specification.