LACONIA — The Belknap County Convention's Executive Committee Monday agreed to several 2014 budget transfers sought by Belknap County Commissioners, including $5,200 to pay legal fees incurred by former Belknap County Register of Deeds Barbara Luther in 2011, when she was sued by the previous commission in an effort to make her comply with recommendations made by an auditing firm hired by the county.
In 2013 the county convention appropriated $5,200 to pay Luther's fees but the former commissioners refused to release a check to her.
Commission Chairman Richard Burchell said that since the lawsuit was brought against her in her capacity as Register of Deeds that it was appropriate that the county should reimburse her for those costs.
''Apparently the money we put in the budget was spent somewhere else,'' said Burchell.
Transfer requests also approved were $11,291 for inmate medications and medical services at the Belknap County Jail, $6,530 for natural gas heating fuel charges for December, $260 to pay for legal expenses incurred by Burchell in fees paid to Belknap County Superior Court in filing a lawsuit on behalf of the county convention against the commissioners and $71.84 to pay former representatives Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), and Robert Greemore (R-Meredith) to attend a Personnel Committee meeting.
A total of 56 budget transfer requests have been made by county commissioners for the 2014 budget year, the vast majority of which came after the county convention obtained a temporary injunction in Belknap County Superior Court in late summer which prohibited county commissioners from transferring more than $300 from one line item in the budget to another without the approval of the Executive Committee.
Still awaiting action by the Executive Committee are some $60,000 in unpaid legal bills which Belknap County Commissioners put off consideration of until a third commissioner had been appointed to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Commissioner Steve Nedeau of Meredith effective as of January 1.
Hunter Taylor of Alton, a retired lawyer who was also a law professor at Rutgers University and moved to the Lakes Region from New Jersey in 2010, was named by the Belknap County Convention to fill the remaining two years of Nedeau's term on Monday night.
During an interview of Taylor conducted by members of the convention, Brian Gallagher of Sanbornton, convention clerk, expressed the view that the legal bills, many of which were run up in the battle between commissioners and the convention over line item budget authority, should be paid so that the county could put the issue in the past.
He asked Taylor, who has in the past suggested that the county convention should conduct an investigation into the possibility that the previous commissioners had broken the law by having the county incur legal fees for which no funds had been appropriated, whether it was wise ''to be spending taxpayer dollars to get the same conclusion'' already rendered in the court's decision.
Convention Chairman Frank Tilton cut off that line of questioning before Taylor could answer, saying ''we don't want to go that deep'' and suggested that the questions should focus on qualifications, not on specific issues the candidate for the position would be dealing with.
Last week Burchell revealed that the county now holds nearly $30,000 in recently received legal bills, $5,456 from the Drummond Woodsum law firm which represented the commission at a hearing on the dismissal of Belknap County Nursing Home Administrator Mathew Logue, $12,600 from the lawyer who represented the Belknap County Convention in its lawsuit against the commissioners over line item budget authority and another $10,429 in a personnel matter case. The source of the last bill was not mentioned.
Prior to receiving the latest bills last week the commissioners declined to endorse a 2014 budget transfer request to the convention's Executive Committee for $31,852.54 to pay the county's legal bills which had been received between October 31 and the end of the year. That request had been made by the board that left office on December 31.
Legal bills which have been paid through the end of the year total $39,574.59 and many of those relate to the year-long struggle between the former commissioners and the convention over line item budget authority.
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