Belknap Convention will return to budget deliberations on Tuesday

LACONIA — The Belknap County Convention will resume its contentious discussion of the 2014 budget next Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the Belknap County Complex.
At the conclusion of Monday's meeting, convention members agreed to cancel a meeting scheduled for today (Thursday) in order to allow county Administrator Debra Shackett to prepare new spreadsheets reflecting the changes made to the budget at Monday's meeting.
Among the new numbers will be a reduction in the amount of the undesignated fund balance to be applied to reduce the amount of the taxes to be raised from $2 million to $1.5 million.
Monday night Rep. Jane Cormier (R-Alton) made a motion for that reduction, which was originally coupled with setting an amount to be raised by taxes of $13,885,116. But Rep,. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) said the amount to be raised by taxes was yet to be determined and should not be included in the motion.
Cormier agreed to drop that part of her motion and stick with the $1.5 million to be used from the fund balance and the motion passed 9-3.
Commission Chairman Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) said that, even though the reduction in the amount of the fund balance used raises the 2014 burden by $500,000, it is important to keep in mind that there is a county jail project down the road will which cost ''$10, 15, 20 million'' and for which the county will have to borrow and needs to protect its credit rating.
The latest convention working budget compiled by Shackett and distributed by e-mail to members of the convention yesterday shows a total budget of $25,636,339, down by $76,000 from that which had previously been under consideration, while the total county appropriations show an increase of $426,000, from $13,551,598 to $13,977,790.
The current working budget is $2 million less than was actually spent last year ($27,639,073), while the amount to be raised by taxes is $88,000 more than last year ($13,889,467).
Among the cuts the convention has already made in the commission's proposed $26,570,000 budget for 2014 is a reduction of $500,000 for health insurance benefits for county employees, from $3.1 million to the same level as last year, about $2.6 million.
Rep. Tilton supported the health insurance benefit reduction by saying that commissioners have not made any progress in increasing the share of health insurance paid by county workers and have an opportunity between now and July 1, when health insurance rates for county employees are scheduled to increase by 13.42 percent, to make whatever changes they will need to make.

Shackett said that commissioners will be faced with the difficult task of finding over $800,000 in the budget to offset cuts which she said the convention made to contractual obligations for county employees in order to avoid layoffs or benefit cuts, which would have to be negotiated with unions in order to avoid breaking contracts and facing legal action as a result.
Rep. Bob Luther (R-Laconia), who voted against several of the cuts that the Republican majority made, said that the convention members who think they have the power over how the money they appropriate is actually spent should pause to reflect on how much power they actually have.
''How the people at this table think they have authority over spending that money is beyond me. If you had any authority over spending how the Register of Deeds legal fees we appropriated money for haven't been paid? You can't tell them (the commissioners) how to spend that money'' said Luther.
He also described a motion made by fellow Republican Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) to reverse an earlier decision by the convention to support the upgrading of a position in the Restorative Justice Department to full-time as ''not worth making'' and criticized a motion made by Rep. Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont) to cut two cruisers from the Sheriff's Department budget as ''false economy'' which would cost the county more money than it would save.