By ROGER AMSDEN, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Members of the Belknap County Delegation struggled to find cuts in the proposed $28 million county budget in a marathon session Tuesday night which lasted four-and-a-half hours.
By the end of the session, the delegation had approved several cuts, including funds for a county human resources director ($65,540), a full-time dispatcher for the Sheriff's Department ($42,645) and the hiring of two Department of Corrections officers ($53,344) . But they were far short of the announced goal of several members of the delegation to cut $1.2 million from the budget.
Legislators rejected an effort to cut nearly $70,000 from the county attorney's budget and a bid to do away with outside details for the Sheriff's Department, which would have saved $35,000 but cost the county more than $12,000 in revenue. And, while they made several budget cuts of less than $10,000 in other departments, with only the nursing home, restorative justice and outside agency budgets still to review, there appears no way that the proponents of deeper cuts will reach their announced goal when they meet next Tuesday night to renew budget deliberations. Tuesday's cuts amounted to less than $200,000.
Members of the delegation supporting cuts crossed swords with the commissioners over the budget information they have been receiving, maintaining that the numbers keep changing and they're not certain what to believe.
"Every time we come in, we get a different number. How can we do our job if you're playing with the numbers?" said Rep. Norm Silber (R-Gilford), who was joined in his complaints by Rep. Ray Howard (R-Alton) and Rep. Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont.)
County Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton), denied that commissioners are playing games with the budget numbers, saying that assertions by budget cut proponents that the budget was up by $2 million are erroneous. He said that the changes in budgets listed from the previous year in the printouts provided change as the information is updated and are not part of any attempt to manipulate budget numbers.
He said that the 6.3 percent increase proposed by the commission would only be minimal if the legislators hadn't used $605,000 in surplus funds last year to cut taxes.
When Sylvia later in the evening attempted to again question the budget numbers DeVoy said that the whole point of that line of discussion was an attempt to "'undermine what we're doing."
Rep. Dave Huot (D-Laconia) pointed out that the information provided by the commission shows an increase of $917,439 and that cost increases for a few budget lines in the form of contractual obligations total nearly $1 million.
He said that the goal of the community corrections facility, which is a driving factor in the budget increases, is to develop programs "which will in the long run save the taxpayers money." He said that it was "preposterous to think that the you can come to the $26 million level."
Silber proposed cutting the county attorney's budget from $827,269 to $758,866, maintaining that the increase was for hiring an additional attorney. Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) said that the proposed cut was "arbitrary and capricious and being made without consideration of the impact." He cautioned legislators to be careful and cautious as they went through the budget, as they could open the county up to a lawsuit by arbitrarily cutting the budget.
County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen said that Silber's information was inaccurate and that she was not adding an attorney, but fully funding a position which was approved last year for an attorney to help handle the increased case load her department faces due to the Felony First program in which her department takes all felonies directly to Superior Court.
"There's nothing requested for new staff. We do have a union contract and I can't fire anyone except for cause," she said, pointing out that the proposed cut would require her to eliminate an entire position, leaving her without the resources to do her job properly. Her statement was applauded by the audience.
Silber's motion was defeated 11-3 and her budget was eventually cut by only $269.
The proposed county administration budget was cut from $446,992 to $381,145 with the removal of $65,400 for a human resources director and the information technology budget was cut by $1,800 after an attempt by Rep. Howard to cut $6,000 was withdrawn. Rep. Tim Lang (R-Sanbornton) pointed out that Howard's proposed cuts were in already negotiated contracts with providers and couldn't be cut.
Howard also proposed to cut the outside detail budget of the Sheriff's Department by $35,000, maintaining that the deputies were using the department's cruisers on those details which made for more wear and tear on them.
But Sheriff Michael Moyer said that "no one is getting rich on these details," and that the county made a profit from them. Those contracting for the outside duty officers pay the county, not the individual, who receives a portion of the money paid to the county.
The delegation defeated by an 8-7 vote a motion by Lang which would have lifted the prohibition on the commissioners which limits their ability to transfer funds within departments without approval of the delegation's executive committee. He pointed out that there were 99 transfer requests for last year, some for amounts as small as $15, only one of which was denied. He said that the current process is basically a waste of everyone's time.