Published Date Written by Roger Amsden
LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners are reasserting their authority over line items in the county budget and are prepared to go ahead with a plan for dealing with a $600,000 cut in their proposed $26.2 million budget for 2013 by transferring funds within each department's total that was approved by the Belknap County Convention.
The convention and commission have been at odds over who has line item control over each and every item in the county budget, with the delegation asserting that it does have that power while the commission believes that authority is limited to the broad subtotals that define departments, such as the nursing home.
''We've found a way to operate within the delegation's budget with only a $52,000 transfer,'' County Administrator Debra Shackett told commissioners John Thomas and Steven Nedeau at a Wednesday morning work session on the budget. (Commissioner Ed Philpot was absent.)
Shackett termed the proposal "Plan C" as she outlined it for them and said that transfer which would need to be approved by the convention would be $52,000 from a contingency fund in order to retain a full-time position at the Department of Corrections.
She said commissioners, armed with a legal opinion from an attorney they consulted, are confident that they do have the power to move the funds within each department in order to meet the contractual obligations the county has in funding health insurance, sick day bonus and longevity which are specified in the union contracts with employees which are still in force.
Shackett said the convention did not allocate enough money to cover the level of health insurance the county is obligated to pay for each employee. If transfers are not allowed into the health insurance accounts, the only other option would have been layoffs to get the number of employees down to a level where each receives the required level of benefit.
She told the commissioners that Plan C would most likely be the most palatable to the delegation and would appear to accomplish its intent of cutting the budget.
Another option which was presented was a Plan A, which would seek a supplemental appropriation of $219,670 for the unfunded benefit costs, but commissioners said that they would not want to approach the convention with that plan, feeling it would be rejected out of hand.
Another option would be Plan B, which the commission considered last week, and involved spending reductions totaling $198,606 and budget transfers of $258,606 for which county convention approval would be sought.
Shackett said that cuts from the administration budget, which included a $20,000 reduction in her pay from $106,000 to $86,000, would be restored by allocating part of the costs for her office to the nursing home.
If the pay cut did take effect, Shackett would become the fourth highest paid county employee, behind Human Resources administrator Norm O'Neill, $96,635, Nursing Home Administrator Mathew Logue at $90,000 and County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen at $89,164.
County Commissioner Steve Nedeau asked Shackett if there was any way the get around going to the convention and asking for the $52,000 and she said that in going over the corrections' budget they had been able to get it down to within $23,000 of matching the amount allocated by the convention but couldn't risk deeper cuts to a department which was already understaffed.
Shackett said that getting through the year with the current budget wasn't her only worry and she was concerned over what the county convention had in store for the future.
''It's like a war and if we're still standing at the end of this year they're going to knock us down again,'' she said.
Nedeau said that the cuts which the convention made were arbitrary and not based on knowledge of the every day workings of the county. ''We've come a long way in the last four years and it's all gone out the door in the last three months. In doesn't do Belknap County any good to go downhill the wrong way. I don't feel comfortable going to the delegation and working it out with them, so I think Plan C is our only option."
Nedeau wondered if the request for the transfer of funds would be made to the convention as a whole or just to its executive committee, prompting Thomas, the commission chairman, to say it should go the entire convention.
''We know that the whole delegation is not getting all the information from the executive committee. There's no other way to say it, but we really need the whole delegation to be included so that they'll understand what's going on'' said Thomas.