LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners Wednesday morning defended their actions in transferring funds from 90 lines in the 2013 budget to fund salary and benefit items for county employees.
''We met our contractual obligations. Now county convention members are saying we did something wrong because we lived up to the contract,'' said Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia).
Commissioners were responding to charges made at Tuesday night's meeting of the Belknap County Convention by Chairman Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) that the commissioners, by shuffling appropriations authorized by the convention, "overspent salary and benefit lines to the detriment of maintenance and capital" then "falsely blamed" the convention for underfunding routine maintenance and capital projects.
The convention last year stripped funding for sick day and longevity bonuses as well as increased health insurance premiums from the budget. The commissioners then shuffled funds from some 90 budget lines to fund what they say are the contractual obligations under the collective bargaining agreements with the State Employees Association local, which represents employees of the Corrections Department, Sheriff's Department and Nursing Home.
''Some members of the convention have a serious misconception about these contracts. I heard it from at least two reps that they think they can do what they want, that there's no contract in place. But we can't.'' said Philpot.
He later said that ''I know they understand that. They were screwing around with the contract.''
The commission now faces the challenge of possibly having to deal with another union as 28 county employees who are not members of a union have petitioned the Public Employees Labor Relations Board to form a collective bargaining unit represented by Teamsters Local 633 which is headquartered in Manchester.
Commission Chairman John Thomas said that he thought that the new union is being sought by employees due to ''the convention's refusal to fund contractual obligations and the threat of benefits being further reduced by the non-appropriation of funds.''
Philpot said ''we shouldn't speculate'' and urged making no comments on the petition. The county has 15 days in which to respond to the petition and commissioners met later in the morning in a non-public session to discuss whether they would oppose the petition.
Commissioners also discussed three bills proposed by Belknap County legislators regarding the county budget process. They criticized provisions in all three and said that the bills wouldn't be necessary if the convention would only engage in a dialogue with the commission and think beyond the current situation.
''We've been threatened with a lawsuit on this issue and have been corresponding with the convention's attorney and haven't heard back, They don't have an argument against what we say should be the way the budget is handled,'' said Philpot.
Nedeau said that the three bills were totally ''anti-county'' and didn't see any way they would make it through the Legislature.
With regard to the lawsuit authorized by the convention against the commission Nedeau said that he was waiting for something to materialize as no court action has been filed. ''People, if you've got something, bring it on.'' he said.