Lawmakers taking dead aim at county wage & benefit increases

LACONIA — Belknap County workers will feel the brunt of cuts being considered by the Belknap County Convention to the proposed 2014 budget, which will see a decrease of $732,855 from the $26.57 million budget proposed by county commissioners if the budget currently under consideration by the convention is adopted.
The budget currently being considered would reduce the total amount to be raised by taxes from $14,445,359 to $13,712, 804, a decrease of 1.3 percent from the $13,889,467 raised last year,.
Once the $533,000 no longer contained in the budget as a result of the county no longer funding Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid, the net change in the proposed budget is 2.7 percent above last year.
The cuts under consideration include a commission-proposed 1.6 percent cost of living pay increase as well as 3 percent "step" increases for eligible employees as well as reductions in health insurance, longevity and retirement benefits, the last three of which are viewed by the commissioners as contractual obligations.
The convention tackled the budget for the second straight day yesterday afternoon at the Belknap County complex in another marathon session which saw sometimes heated discussion over issues of who controls the line items in the county budget and whether or not the county should hire three additional corrections officers at the county jail.
The corrections officer proposal, which would have added about $120,000 in wages and benefits to the Corrections Department budget for an additional community corrections officer and two additional corrections officers was hailed as a ''complete package'' by Rep, Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), who pressed county commissioners to agree to support the proposal which had the support of many of the more fiscally conservative members of the convention for its potential in allowing more prisoners to be released into community programs.
But Commission Chairman John Thomas (R-Belmont) and fellow commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia), pointed out that they would first have to find $82,000 within the Corrections Department budget to make up for cuts in benefits and wages that the convention was considering.
The commissioners said they would either be left in the position of not bringing on the new prison employees or having to reduce the benefits they are contractually guaranteed to provide, resulting in a lawsuit that the county would be certain t lose.
Rep. Ruth Gulick (D-New Hampton) moved that the convention adopt the budget as proposed by the commissioners and add the funds to hire the three new guards but that motion was defeated 14-3.