Rep. Tilton files bill that would make clear Belknap Convention's right to control budget transfers from line to line

CONCORD — State Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) has become the second member of the Belknap County Convention to file legislation intended to clearly delineate the respective authorities of the convention and the Belknap County Commission over the county budget. Earlier this month Representative Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) submitted a similar proposal for drafting.

Tilton said yesterday that his bill closely follows a statute prescribing the budget process to be followed in Hillsborough County. He emphasized that he believes the existing law vests the convention with the authority to specify line-item appropriations within the department budgets as well as to approve any transfer of funds from particular line items either within or between departments.

However, Tilton said that his bill "spells it out even more clearly than the existing statutory language." He explained that where the law applying to Hillsborough County requires that appropriations "shall be itemized in detail," he added the phrase "including specific line items within each department." His bill would enable the convention to permit the commission to transfer funds of specified amounts without the approval of the Executive Committee of the convention. "Hillsborough County makes no exceptions, but Rockingham County sets a limit of $300," he said. "This year we made no exceptions."

Although Tilton expected the legislation would be enacted, he said "this isn't a bill that's going to rush through." As long as the bill is adopted and made effective in 2014, he believes that it would apply to next year's county budget. But, he stopped short of saying that that legislation would forestall the convention and commission seeking to settle their differences in court. "We haven't resolved what we're doing now," he said, noting that the commissioners have shuffled funds within the 2013 budget adopted by the convention without the approval of its Executive Committee.

Last month, the convention, against Worsman's recommendation, voted not to file suit in Belknap County Superior Court against the commission in an effort to resolve the dispute. Tilton, who was among those voting against litigating, said that "it would be a long, slow, expensive proposition" while acknowledging "litigation is not off the table and is certainly a possibility."