Published DateLACONIA — The stand-off between the Belknap County Convention and Belknap County Commission over the 2013 county budget continues, with the convention insisting on its authority over particular line items and the commission on its authority to reallocate funds within separate departments.
When the Executive Committee of the convention met yesterday, Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) announced that she had hand delivered the annual budget report, known as the MS-42, to the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration (DRA). She explained that she attached a copy of line item budget voted by convention on March 4 along with a copy of the draft minutes of the March 4 meeting of the convention. For good measure, she added a note advising the DRA that by majority vote the convention required the commission to secure the written permission of its Executive Committee to transfer funds from one line to another.
Last month the commissioners decided to shuffle money within departments budgets to fund employee benefits — bonuses for unused sick days and longevity of service as well as a seven-percent increase in health insurance premiums — that the convention had stripped from the budget. In anticipating that they would fund the benefits, which are contractual obligations under the expired collective bargaining agreements with the unions representing county employees, the commission authorized scheduled payments in January, February and March.
Apart from funding the employee benefits, the commission also struck $5,200 in legal fees incurred by the Register of Deeds, Barbara Luther, when the commissioners took her to court for refusing to comply with the recommendations of the county's independent auditor. In the MS-42 filed with DRA, Worsman amended the standard form prescribed by the agency to appropriate $5,200 for "other legal costs for Reg. of Deeds".
The convention is scheduled to review county expenditures year-to-date when its meets on Wednesday, April 17th.
Meanwhile, when the Executive Committee met yesterday to review revenue and expenditures in 2012, the tension that has marked the relationship between the convention and County Administrator Deb Shackett and Finance Director Glen Waring since December persisted.
Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) began by asking for an explanation of the failure to accurately forecast revenues from miscellaneous sources that exceeded estimates 375 percent in one case and 1,297 percent in another. Replying that they did not expect such detailed questions about forecasts made more than a year ago, Shackett and Waring asked the committee to make a list and offered to return with the answers. "it's not right on the tip of my tongue," said Waring.
"I'm a little upset," said Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith). "We need to have some input and not just 'we'll make a list.'"
Waring reminded the committee that the 2012 revenues were considered four months ago in the course of preparing the estimates for 2013 and remarked that he found the questions "somewhat repetitive."
"If i's repetitive," said Tilton, "I'm surprised it's not on the tip of your tongue."
"I don't get angry often," began Vadney, who insinuated that Shackett and Waring were withholding information. "I'm very discouraged that you're stonewalling us," he said.
Shackett said that the commission explained its budget to convention and posted it on the county website. "We asked you for questions, but we never got any," she said, repeating that the time to consider the disparities between estimated and actual revenues in 2012 was when preparing estimates for 2013.
As the discussion continued, Tilton more than once noted that the issues raised had been discussed either by the convention or by its sub-committees as they prepared the 2013 budget.
From the questioning, it appeared that Worsman wanted to know if unforeseen revenues, especially a payment of $412,523 from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services to the nursing home, were received before or after the commission requested and received a supplemental appropriation of $160,000 to fund the process of planning a new jail.
Worsman also appeared surprised to learn that in 2012 the commission transferred several sums in excess of $10,000 with the Sheriff's Department without seeking the approval of the Executive Committee of the convention.