Huot files bill to give county commissioners more budget management autonomy

LACONIA — Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia) this week became the third member of the Belknap County Convention to file legislation intended to clarify the responsibilities of the commission and convention in preparing and managing the county budget.

Differences between the three Belknap County Commissioners and the county administration on the one hand and the Republican majority of the county convention have roiled county government throughout the year. The majority of the convention has insisted that the convention can rewrite the budget proposed by the commission by adding, deleting, raising or lowering particular line item appropriations. And, in the course of managing the budget, the commission may only reallocate funds from one line to another with the approval of the Executive Committee of the convention.

With equal resolve, the commissioners claim that the authority of the convention is limited to itemizing appropriations in 13 broad categories Within these categories, the commission contends it can distribute funds among different lines without the approval of the convention as long as expenditures do not exceed the total appropriations of the particular categories.

Huot said yesterday that his legislation would apply to all of the 10 counties in the state, but would not override provisions of existing statutes that apply specifically to Hillsborough, Rockingham and Strafford counties. The bill will prescribe a uniform format for county budgets, which the commissions present to the conventions in December, consisting of accounts for departments and functions. County commissions would be authorized to transfer funds between line items within the accounts without the approval of the convention, but transfers or more than $1,000 between accounts would require the approval of the Executive Committee of the convention.

In addition, Huot's bill would require that at least one representative from the minority party in the convention be seated on the Executive Committee.

Throughout the controversy within the Belknap County Convention Huot has noted that that the existing law bearing on county budgeting is open to interpretation. In fact, both the commission and the convention received legal opinions upholding their respective positions and the convention was stopped short of filing suit against the commission by a single vote. Huot conceded that because the different counties operate differently within the bounds of the existing law, his bid to introduce a measure of uniformity would encounter resistance. "I'm poking a stick right in the middle of a hornet's nest," he remarked.

Earlier both Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) who chairs the Belknap County Convention, and Rep. Tilton (R-Laconia), chairman of its executive committee, also filed bills that would enshrine their view of the convention's authority in an statute applying only to Belknap County.