LACONIA — Belknap County Convention Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) cautioned fellow lawmakers against trying to micromanage county affairs after the convention’s Executive Committee meeting on Wednesday reduced a request for a $150,000 transfer of funds to meet unanticipated 2015 medical costs incurred by the Belknap County Corrections Department to $112,000.
The transfer request was one of 60 made by the Belknap County Commissioners this year in order to comply with state law and the convention’s policy of requiring approval by the Executive Committee of transfers of more than $800 between budget lines.
“We’ll be meeting up here daily and be accused of micromanaging,” Tilton told his fellow legislators, maintaining that the recommendations of the county commissioners and department heads who are involved in the day-to-day operations of the county deserve to be given due consideration.
The committee voted unanimously to approve the $112,000 to meet outstanding bills already received after rejecting a motion made by Rep. Don Flanders (R-Laconia) to approve the full $150,000 by a 4-2 vote. The only other vote in support of that motion came from Tilton.
Voting against granting the full request were Rep. Brian Gallagher (R-Sanbornton), Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith), Rep. George Hurt (R-Gilford) and Rep. Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont).
Gallagher, who had questioned the need for several transfer requests, suggested that the request be “put on pause” until the county made an attempt to negotiate to lower the bills. He said that approving the full transfer request now would weaken the county’s ability to negotiate for lower fees.
Commission Chairman David DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said that approach poses risks for the county and pointed out that the county had already received $111,368 in medical bills and was expecting more.
Tilton said “our job is to allocate funds. It is the commission’s job to negotiate.”
DeVoy had said earlier that the county was looking at how Merrimack County has been handling situations regarding medical costs for prisoners and how they were able to obtain Medicaid reimbursements.
He said that Merrimack County has a full-time person working on those situations, something Belknap County lacks.
“We want you to trust us to try and negotiate this down and get a better understanding of the process to recover the money. No one here has ever done this before,” said DeVoy.
Gallagher said that the funds could come from any surplus within the corrections budget but County Administrator Debra Shackett said there is a projected surplus of just $43,932 for the department.
Accounting for nearly half of the medical bills already received is a $53,000 bill from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon for two weeks of treatment for a female inmate who attempted to hang herself in her cell on Sept. 29 and who was taken first to Lakes Region General Hospital and then transferred to Dartmouth-Hitchcock.
During his presentation on the need for the transfer, DeVoy said the inmate had nearly succeeded in her suicide attempt, which was made during a shift change when the interval between visual inspection of cells was a half hour, rather than the normal 15 minutes.
Gallagher also questioned the need for a $20,000 transfer for engineering work on the community corrections facility, maintaining that it could come from the $8 million borrowing approved in early November by the county convention.
But Tilton pointed out that the engineering work is ongoing and cannot be paid for with the bond-sale funds until the $8 million is actually appropriated by the county convention as part of the 2016 budget, which will not likely take place for a few months.
He said that denying the transfer request would slow down the community corrections center program, as the engineering firm is under no obligation to continue its work unless the county has set aside funds to meet its contractual obligations.
He said delaying the funding was an attempt to micromanage county business and that he was comfortable with the approach suggested by the commissioners.
A motion by Flanders to approve the transfer was approved 5-0, with Gallagher abstaining.