LACONIA — Tempers flared and accusations flew around the meeting room as the Belknap County Convention met Tuesday evening for its second straight day of deliberations on the proposed 2014 county budget.
One of the hotly disputed issues dealt with administrative pay and an effort by County Convention Chairman Colette Worsman to adjust line items in the budget to reflect the salary of County Administrator Debra Shackett, who gets $106,720 a year and whose salary is split 70/30 between the Administration and Nursing Home budgets..
Shackett questioned the numbers Worsman was using and asked how she was calculating them and charged that Worsman was presenting the wrong information to the convention in an attempt to cut her pay.
Worsman denied that she was trying to cut Shackett's pay, but said she was basing her calculations on the $86,720 listed in last year's budget when the convention's Republican majority voted to cut the administrator's pay by $20,000. The ounty commissioners later restored the pay cut by transferring funds from other accounts.
Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia) pointed out that the convention has no control over setting salaries, saying ''we don't have the right to monkey with that.''
Other Democrats weighed in, with Rep. Lisa DiMartino (D-Gilford) asking Worsman why she was attempting to cut Shackett's pay, asking ''do you think she is overpaid?'' and Rep. Ruth Gulick (D-New Hampton) asking ''why are we going through every line and punishing people who don't deserve it?''
Worsman made no reply.
County Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia) stated emphatically that the convention does not have the authority to set salaries and said that the commissioners would continue to pay Shackett the salary they had agreed on.
It was the third attempt Worsman has made to cut Shackett's pay. In 2012 she attempted to cut the administrator's pay to $89,164, the same amount as County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen makes, but that motion failed on a 11-7 vote.
County Convention Clerk Jane Cormier (R-Alton) defended Worsman, saying that ''there's no way to get to the bottom line unless we do separate salaries'' prompting Huot to say that, while the administrative salaries being apportioned between departments does make for difficult accounting, that ''it doesn't make any sense at all'' to follow the procedure Worsman was using.
Later in the discussion Shackett told Worsman that she was indeed, trying to cut her salary and the audience, composed largely of county employees, broke out in applause.
Commissioners and the convention members also clashed over the legal services line item in the administrative budget. Commissioners had asked for $40,000 and that sum had been reduced to $30,000 by the convention's subcommittee. Worsman, with support of Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia,) moved to reduce that number to $10,000, with Tilton maintaining that the actual expenditures for 2013 were less than $10,000.
That touched off a discussion of the legal action that the convention has voted to take against the commissioners in their year-long dispute over line item budget authority. No legal action has yet been filed and when Rep. Ian Raymond (D-Sanbornton) asked for an update on the suit, Rep. Worsman said she wasn't prepared at this time to talk about in a public session.
Raymond said that the county has already spent $7,554 defending itself against the potential pending lawsuit.
When Worsman made the motion to reduce the legal services line to $10,000 Rep. DiMartino said that with a possible lawsuit pending ''that would be foolish'' but Tilton said that the commissioners had chosen to use funds from the contingency line to pay for legal bills rather than coming to the county's Executive Committee to to seek a transfer, so it was appropriate to hold that line to $10,000.
Commissioners pointed out that transfer requests which had been made were denied by the committee, which is why the contingency line was used.
The motion to reduce the legal services line to $10,000 passed by a 10-7 vote.
Other cuts which the convention is considering in its proposed ''working budget'' total up to $732,855 from the $26.57 million budget proposed by County Commissioners.
County Commissioner Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith) said that the cuts under consideration — which include a 1.6 percent cost of living pay increase as well as 3 percent salary-scale "step' increases for elegible employees, as well as reductions in health insurance, longevity and retirement benefits — will have a devastating affect on the morale of county employees and increase turnover.
''We're going to suffer and people won't want to come here to work.'' said Nedeau.
The convention will meet next Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the Belknap County complex to finalize the 2014 budget.