County Convention level funds health insurance, grabs grant oversight

LACONIA — The Belknap County Convention voted last night to level fund spending for health insurance benefits for county employees at the 2013 level, about $2.6 million, which is more than $500,000 less than the amount sought for health insurance by Belknap County Commissioners in their proposed $26,570,000 2014 budget.
The convention also voted to hire two additional corrections department officers while cutting two vehicles, at a savings of $20,000, from the Belknap County Sheriff's Department budget.
It also supported a move to cut back a proposed full-time position in the Restorative Services Department to part-time and voted to take control over the grant process by requiring that all state and federal grant requests go through the budget process and gain convention approval.
Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) said that the county needs to assume control of the grant process in order to protect taxpayers. "It puts the delegation as an oversight group of the county so that we don't accept money from nefarious sources.''' He maintained that the county's acceptance of federal stimulus funds had created a level of spending which the county couldn't sustain.
He was joined in support for the grant proposal by Rep. Jane Cormier (R-Alton), who said that federal funds come with ''mandated outcomes'' which take away local control. Convention Chair Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), said that this provided a way for the county officials to look out for the interests of local taxpayers ''who pay this money to Washington, D.C.''
Rep. Ruth Gulick (D-New Hampton) asked if those supporting the county's assumption of control over grants were suggesting ''that there are some secret grants out there that on which information is not available on to the public'' and said ''we're exceeding our power.''
Gulick said that the county oversight of grants has always been ''retrospective rather than prospective'' and that the current process provides adequate review of grants and establishes accountability.
County Commissioner Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith) pointed out that in recent years the commission has applied for $1.5 million worth of grants for projects in the city of Laconia and that many were up against tight deadlines which could have been lost if the process had been needlessly extended.
The convention also approved a request from commissioners for a $10 million tax anticipation note but not before making it contingent upon passage of a county budget.
County Administrator Debra Shackett said the condition wasn't needed and that unless legislators acted by mid to late March the county could run out of money,