Commissioners say they're following law, refer protest about transfers to their lawyer

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners decided Wednesday to refer a letter they have received from an attorney representing the Belknap County Convention to their own attorney rather than respond directly.
''It was nothing but demands, a list of a dozen demands,'' said Commissioner Steven Nedeau of the letter from attorney David Horan, who was hired by the convention by a 9-7 vote in April to represent the county legislative body in its dispute with the commissioners over who has control over transferring monies between line items in the county budget.
Commissioners said the letter included a request from attorney Horan to meet with the county's attorney and Commissioner Ed Philpot, himself an attorney, said that the commission should not reply to the letter but leave the matter in the hands of its own attorney.
''We should defer to our attorney and let him meet with their attorney. The attorneys are not authorized to do anything without approval. But we should allow them to have that conversation with our attorney and get it resolved,'' said Philpot.
The commission and the convention have been at odds over who has line item control over each and every item in the county budget, with the convention asserting that it does have that transfer power while the commission believes that authority is limited to the broad subtotals that define departments, such as the nursing home.
Earlier this year the commission made a number of budget transfers after the convention cuts its $26.2 million budget request by $600,000.
At that time commissioners, armed with a legal opinion from an attorney they had consulted, said they were confident that they 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.
Commissioners said the convention did not allocate enough money to cover the level of health insurance the county is obligated to pay for each employee and that if transfers were 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 received the required level of benefit.
The convention hired Horan after those transfers, which some convention members characterized at public meetings as being illegal.
On Monday the convention held a closed-door session with Horan which lasted nearly a half hour.
Belknap County Convention Chairman Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) said during an Executive Committee meeting that there were 27 accounts for which the convention budget included no funds that the commission has spent money from so far this year.
She said that she had counted ''a total of 91 items which they have moved'' and that seven departments have fund totals different from what the delegation voted.
Executive Committee Chairman Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) said that funds ''cannot be moved without our authority and that the county treasurer cannot sign checks without our authority.''
But commissioners on Wednesday morning, citing state law, said that Tilton is wrong.
They said that section 29:1 under Title II Counties, reads ''the county treasurer shall have custody of all moneys belonging to the county, and shall pay out the same only upon orders of the commissioners.''
Commissioners also said Section 29:5 of Chapter 29 reads ''The order of the county commissioners shall be a sufficient voucher for the payment of assisted person accounts, appropriations by the county convention and all other sums for which the county may be chargeable.''