Effort to adjust compensation for elected county officials fails

LACONIA — The Executive Committee of the Belknap County Convention yesterday voted unanimously to recommend the convention maintain the compensation of elected county officials at their current rates, but only after attempts to raise the salary of the Registrar of Deeds and lower the salary of the County Attorney failed.

Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), proposed raising the salary of the registrar by $3,000 for two years, from $68,415 to $71,415, to compensate Barbara Luther, the incumbent, for legal costs she incurred in 2012 when the Belknap County Commission took her to court for declining to implement operational changes recommended by the independent auditors.

The issue has been a bone of contention between the convention and the commission for the past two years. After the commission settled its dispute with Luther in August 2012, she requested the county pay the cost of her defense, which amounted to $5,200. The commission refused. At Tilton's urging the convention added an appropriation to the 2013 county budget, but the commission, still declining to pay the fees, assigned the funds to another purpose.

Calling his motion "very simple," Tilton asked the Executive Committee to reduce the salary of each of three county commissioners by $1,000 a year to fund the increase for the registrar. He added that if he is still serving on the convention after two years, he would support curtailing the raise and returning the registrar's salary to $68,415.

Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), who chairs the convention, agreed that the registrar has not been treated properly, but noted that her salary is relatively high compared to registrars in other counties, who, with the exception of those in Merrimack and Rockingham counties, earn between $18,000 and $10,000 less. She said that she had intended to propose lowering the registrar's salary.

When the committee deadlocked on a 3-3 tie, Tilton's motion failed. Tilton, together with Reps. Herb Vadney and Bob Greemore, both Republicans of Meredith, voted in favor, while Worsman was joined by Reps. Guy Comtois (R-Barnstead) and Jane Cormnier (R-Alton) in opposition.

Worsman proposed trimming the salary of County Attorney Melissa C. Guldbrandsen from $89,164 to $85,000, explaining that only her counterpart in Merrimack County earned more. Tilton warned, "It's hard to get county attorneys" and reducing the salary would be "very much a disincentive."

Vadney said, "We shouldn't be playing with personalities" and "It's wrong to lower salaries." The question, he continued, is "how did they get this high in the first place?" Conceding that the convention could not reverse what occurred in the past, he said, "We can stop it."

With that Worsman withdrew her motion and the committee agreed not to change the salary schedule.