Convention, commission still at odds over budget authority

LACONIA — The Belknap County Convention huddled behind closed doors Monday night with the attorney they hired to represent them in their dispute with the Belknap County Commission over the authority of the two bodies concerning management of the county budget.
The non-meeting came after County Convention members spent a long day at the Belknap County Complex starting with a 2:30 p.m. tour of the County Corrections facility, a 4 p.m. Executive Committee meeting followed by public hearing on a Gunstock Area Commission request for a $750,000 revenue anticipation note and lengthy discussions over the budget authority dispute and the county jail situation.
The closed-door session with attorney David Horan lasted for a half hour.
The convention hired Horan, a former assistant county attorney in Hillsborough County, by a 9-7 vote on April 17 after several months of wrangling with the commission over who has authority over line item expenditures.
Convention Chairman Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) said during the Convention's discussion of the budget Monday night that there were a total of 92 line items which have been moved in the budget that the convention submitted to the Department of Revenue Administration and that the budget which was submitted to the state was different from the one which was presented to the convention for the discussion at Monday's meeting.
She said that the commission had rearranged the budget and cited two examples, one of which was a $5,500 item for legal fees in the Register of Deeds budget which the Convention had intended to pay the legal bills which she had run up in her dispute with county commissioners over the management of her office.
The other was a $50,000 reduction in the nursing home activities department which Worsman said had not been authorized by the convention.
County Administrator Debra Shackett said that the $5,500 line in the Register of Deeds budget was not an official account and would not be paid and that the reduction in the activities department line item was made by commissioners when they rearranged the budget to meet the $600,000 reduction the convention had made to the budget proposed by the commission.
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.
''The commission does not believe the convention has authority to create a line item,'' said Shackett.
Rep. Robert Greemore (R-Meredith) said it made little sense for the convention to work on the budget and then have the commission rearrange it.''Maybe we should just give you a bottom line budget if that's what you're going to do.''
Rep. Dennis Fields (R-Sanbornton) said that the budget process should work the subcommittees and that process wasn't allowed by the convention's leadership, leading to the current situation.
The prospect of the dispute ending up in Superior Court troubles Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia) who said that there was nothing more alarming to him than the prospect of county budget procedures being decided by a judge.
''The last person I would want to see setting the budget format is a Superior Court judge. They have no legislative experience or experience in county government.'' said Huot.
He said that he had tried to get support in the Legislature for putting together a bill which would address the flaws with county laws which the dispute had revealed but found no one willing to work with him.
Rep. Jane Cormier (R-Alton) said there was a lack of clarity in state laws dealing with county budget procedures and that she wished that it was different.
''How do we go forward without knowing which budget we're working on? This is not the way to do business,'' said Cormier.
Greemore said ''what we have here is a mismatch because for the first time we sat down and looked at the budget.
Rep. Herb Vadney said that any future requests from the County Commission for budget transfers should be turned down until the commission used the budget which had been approved by the County Convention.