Commissioners see lawmakers' interest in county grant process as 'power grab'

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners called an attempt by the County Convention to assert authority over the process of obtaining federal and state grants ''a power grab'' and defended the current policy used by the county in its public accounting of how grants which are obtained outside of the county budget process are accounted for.
''It's a matter of control, a power grab,'' Commissioner Steven Nadeau (R-Meredith) said, pointing out that there might be a lot of ''lost opportunities'' for the county to obtain grants which are currently sought after the county budget has been adopted if the convention puts a cumbersome process in place.
The County Convention on Tuesday discussed requiring that the county seek approval from the convention before applying for grants and require that the funds must be first be appropriated by the convention before they can be spent.
A concern over grant funds not being included in the county budget was raised last week by Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), chairman of the Executive Committee of the convention, who said that a $297,3000 grant which was received last summer by the Belknap County Sheriff's Department wasn't included in the 2013 budget summary nor referenced in the proposed 2014 budget. He said that the funds need to be appropriated by the county in order for it to be able to track all of its expenditures.
During last week's discussion, Belknap County Sheriff Craig Wiggin said that it has never been his experience that a pass-through grant needed to be appropriated by the County Convention.
But at Monday night's convention meeting Curt Magee of Sanbornton reminded the convention of a statute (RSA 24:21-a) that provides that "all moneys to be appropriated by the county must be stipulated in the budget on a 'gross' basis, showing revenues from all sources, including grants, gifts, bequests and bond issues, as offsetting revenues to appropriations affected."
County Administrator Debra Shackett said since it is impossible to forecast what grants will be received at the time the budget is prepared and approved that if grants must be included in the budget it would require a supplemental appropriation each time a grant was received.
She said that the grant policy which was developed by commissioners and mirrors those used by other counties, will be explained to convention members in a written opinion by the county's auditors.
Shackett also reported to the commissioners Wednesday morning that she had attended a committee meeting in the New Hampshire House Tuesday at which two of the three bills submitted by Belknap County legislators in the ongoing dispute over line item budget authority were rejected while another had been amended.
She said that one of the legislators on the committee had said it was not the role of the convention to have line item control over the budget as proposed in the bills and suggested that if the supporters of the bills wanted that much control they should run for county commissioner.
In other business County Treasurer Michael Muzzey told commissioners that the most recent cash flow projection shows the county will run out of cash in March, as is typical, and recommended that the commissioners seek a $10 million tax anticipation loan.
Commissioners voted to accept the recommendation and plan to schedule a meeting with the County Convention's Executive Committee next week.