Feud between county commission & convention continues to boil; transfers again denied

LACONIA — There was no sign of a thaw in the relationship between the Belknap County Convention and the Belknap County Commission yesterday when the Executive Committee of the convention flatly rejected the commissioner's requests to transfer funds to address budget overruns.

The commissioners asked to transfer funds from contingency, $52,000 to defray unforeseen expenses in the Corrections Department and another $5,000 to meet an overrun in the expenses of the convention itself.

County Administrator Deborah Shackett described the Corrections Department as "in dire straits" as the number of inmates has swelled to as many as 151, well over the capacity of the jail. She said that Superintendent Dan Ward has been compelled to place inmates in three other county jails, which have begun to present their bills. At the same time, she noted that the cost of transporting inmates to and from facilities for court appearances has strained the budget of the Sheriff's Department.

Rep. Colette Worsman, who chairs the convention, reminded Shackett that there would be no shortfall if the commissioners had not shuffled funds appropriated by the convention to fund benefits for employees, which the convention struck from its 2013 budget.

Likewise, Worsman questioned the commissioner's decision to invest $60,000, which was originally appropriated to the Sheriff's Department but since rendered unnecessary by receipt of a grant, in a timekeeping system. "Another year we will have wasted taxpayers' money, hard-earned taxpapyers' money, on something foolish," she snapped.

Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), chairman of the Executive Committee, asked if the commission intended to present its plan for the timekeeping system to the convention. "We will definitely tell you what are plans are," replied John Thomas, chairman of the commission, who explained that the system would enhance efficiency.

Shackett told the Executive Committee that the convention "will overspend its budget with every meeting you have, starting with this one." She said that the commissioners are bound by law to pay members of convention $25 per day for each meeting they attend.

In refusing to approve the requested transfers, Tilton said that the commissioners failed to provide the Executive Committee sufficient notice. "We're not going to be acting when you drop it on us like this," he said. Shackett reminded him that the commissioners requested the $52,000 for the Corrections Department during the budget process and in August advised the convention it would overspend its budget.

Shackett said that she would recommend the commissioners charge the convention's expenses to the contingency account, which now has a balance of $202,000. She explained that one statute required them to pay the expenses while another forbid them to spend more than was appropriated. At the same time, she said that when other counties submit bills for housing the county's inmates, she will propose charging them to contingency.

Meanwhile, when the Executive Committee conducted its quarterly review of revenues and expenditures, Worsman again questioned the budgeting of administrative salaries, particularly those of Shackett and Finance Director Glen Waring, which are charged to both the administrative and nursing home budgets. "Transparency is critical," she insisted, explaining that is why the convention assigned the salaries entirely to the administrative budget.

"It should be apparent that you got a $26,000 raise over the last four years," Worsman told Shackett. "The commission didn't like the budget we adopted so they found a way around it."

"That's absolutely not true," countered Thomas. "I take exception to that."

Shackett said that administrative salaries were shared between the two departments to accurately reflect the costs of operating the nursing home and ensure appropriate reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid. "This is proper accounting according to our auditors," she added. Shackett said that the salary schedule is a public document, which has not been withheld from either the county convention or the general public.