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BC Convention heads to court over budget authority dispute

LACONIA — The Belknap County Convention yesterday voted to petition Belknap County Superior Court to resolve its dispute with the Belknap County Commission over their respective authorities in the preparation and management of the annual county budget.

The vote was 10 to 4, with all 10 of the Republican members present voting in favor and all four of the Democratic members present voting against. Those in the majority were Representatives Colette Worsman, who chairs the convention, Bob Greemore and Herb Vadney of Meredith, Jane Cormier and Stephen Holmes of Alton, Guy Comtois of Barnstead, Chuck Fink and Mike Sylvia of Belmont, Richard Burchell of Gilmanton and Frank Tilton of Laconia.

The four Democrats present were Lisa DiMartino of Gilford, Ruth Gulick of New Hampton, David Huot of Laconia and Ian Raymond of Sanbornton. Three Republicans — Don Flanders and Bob Luther of Laconia and Dennis Fields of Sanbornton — and one Democrat — Beth Arsenault of Laconia — were absent.

The vote followed another stormy meeting of the Executive Committee of the convention earlier in the afternoon, which was marked by disagreements between the committee members and county commissioners. When Tilton, the chairman of the Executive Committee, later reported to the full convention, Worsman voiced her frustration at wrestling with two budgets, one adopted by the convention but amended by the commission. "It is becoming," she said pausing, "disheartening."

Vadney then read a motion authorizing attorney David Horan, who has been retained by the convention, to seek a declaratory judgment "concerning the legitimacy or lack thereof of the Belknap County Commissioners rewriting the 2013 county budget by making multiple line transfers" without the review or approval of the Executive Committee. Furthermore, the motion authorized Horan "to take any and all other legal action he sees fit to protect the fiscal integrity of the County Delegation's original budget."

In August, when a similar motion failed by a single vote — 9 to 8 — Vadney and Tilton both voted not to litigate. Yesterday Tilton told his colleagues that he voted intending to allow 60 days for improvement in relations between the convention and the commission. "I don't see any," he remarked.

Throughout the year the Republican majority of the convention has insisted that the convention can rewrite the budget proposed by the commission by adding or deleting, raising or lowering appropriations for particular line items. And, in the course of managing the budget, the commission may only reallocate funds from one line to another with the approval of the Executive Committee of the convention.
With equal resolve, the commissioners claim that the authority of the convention is limited to itemizing appropriations in 13 categories accord with the "Statement of County Appropriations and Revenue as Voted," or MS-42 form, submitted to the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration. Within these categories, the commission contends it can distribute funds among different lines without the approval of the convention as long as expenditures do not exceed the total appropriations of the particular categories.
The issue came to a head when, after the convention stripped appropriations to fund bonuses for unused sick time and longevity of service as well as the employer share of a 7.3-percent increase in health insurance premiums from the 2013 budget, the commissioners shuffled money within departments budgets to fund employee benefits. Altogether the commission drew from 91 lines to fund 27 accounts the convention left empty.

The convention budget includes $10,000 for legal expenses, of which $7,061 has been spent. Raymond asked Worsman if the cost of litigation would be capped and if not, "where is the money going to come from?" She replied "I can't answer that question."

Meanwhile, Worsman, Tilton and Huot have introduced legislation to address the issue by clarifying the role of the convention and commission in the budget process. Worsman and Tilton would codify the position of the convention in statute while Huot's bill would authorize the commission to transfer funds between line items within accounts but require the approval of the convention for transfers of $1,000 or more between accounts.

The tensions overshadowed yesterday's meeting of the Executive Committee when the commissioners repeated their requests, which the committee denied in August and deferred two weeks ago, to transfer funds from contingency to defray overruns in the convention and corrections budgets.

The committee again unanimously refused to transfer $5,000 to pay the stipend and reimburse the mileage of members of the convention for attending meetings. The convention is projected to spend $20,025, over spending its line-item budget by 32 percent. Tilton has advised members not to expect either stipends or reimbursements for the remainder of the year.

County Administrator Debra Shackett reminded the committee of the statute requiring that members receive a stipend and reimbursement and later, when the full convention met, suggested members vote to forego both. The 14 members present agreed, but some were concerned that absentees might disagree, suggesting any vote should be unanimous. Worsman suggested polling the members by e-mail. Instead, the convention asked Shackett to draft a motion for the next meeting.

The Executive Committee also shelved the commission's request to transfer $52,000 to the Department of Corrections, which has coped with a swelling jail population by shunting inmates to facilities in other counties at a cost of $57 per day, not including the costs of providing them medical services and transporting them to court appearances. Shackett said that there was an outstanding bill of $31,000.

Commissioner Ed Philpot said the "budget crisis" arose from "a mistake in the budget," prompting Tilton to snap "that's not correct," to which Philpot replied "there are a lot of things around here that are not correct."

Worsman suggested that rather than transfer funds from contingency, the money be drawn from appropriations for fuel, which she said were over budgeted, sparking a heated exchange between Tilton and Philpot.

"I can't tell you today that because the projections look favorable, that we can transfer those funds," Philpot said. Tilton challenged him, noting that $265,000 was budgeted for fuel purchases, but only $90,000 had been spent through September. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to do the math," he said, doubting that the balance of the appropriation would be spent in the next 10 weeks. Philpot insisted that major fuel purchases were in the offing and until they were made he could not ensure there would be sufficient funds. Ultimately the commissioners agreed to review the budget to determine if there was an alternative to drawing from contingency.

NOTE: The Belknap County Convention adopted a "Memorandum of Understanding" (MOU) with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. Suzanne Cagle, a field specialist with the cooperative extension, explained that the MOU expires every six years and by statute must be reaffirmed. She said that the service has undergone an extensive reorganization, including eliminating 37 positions statewide and reordering its priorities. The county funds approximately a third of the service's budget with federal and state monies providing the balance. Only Representative Jane Cormier (R-Alton) dissented. "It's full of regionalism," she said.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 October 2013 02:24

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Woman involved in minor crash on Lake Shore Road charged with Agg DWI

GILFORD – A woman who was involved in a minor traffic accident on lake Shore Road Thursday morning was charged with aggravated driving while intoxicated.

Police said Debra S. Goeller, 63, of Valley Street in Laconia was driving east toward Alton at 11:52 a.m. and attempted to make a left-hand turn into what police described as a gated dirt turn off that goes to the Laconia Airport runway.

Lt. Kris Kelley, who responded to the crash, said the car that was driving behind Goeller tried to pull around her on the right, but she apparently changed her mind regarding the turn and continued to head east on the road. He said the two cars collided.

Goeller had a passenger in her car and Kelley said the other driver was alone. No one was injured.

Kelley said Goeller is new to the Lakes Region and that her prior address is in New Mexico.

When asked if Goeller's passenger was also intoxicated, Kelley said he didn't think so.

A person is charged with aggravated DWI if he or she causes an accident or if his or her blood alcohol level is greater that .16, which is twice the legal driving limit.

Kelley said both circumstances were alleged factors in Thursday morning's crash.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 October 2013 01:30

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7 BC reps bring home A's on Liberty Alliance report cards

CONCORD — Seven of the 13 Republican representatives from Belknap County were among the 52 members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives whose voting records earned A grades from the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance. The five Democrats in the county delegation were all graded D.

The Liberty Alliance tracked about 60 bills that came before the House this year, scoring members according to whether their vote protected or enhanced individual freedom and personal responsibility or expanded government regulation and central authority.

Posting the highest scores in the delegation, Representatives Guy Comtois of Barnstead and Michael Sylvia of Belmont were among the 17 House members to receive straight As. Representatives Bob Greemore and Colette Worsman of Meredith, Richard Burchell of Gilmanton, Chuck Fink of Belmont and Jane Cormier of Alton all were awarded grades of A minus.

Of six remaining county Republican representatives, Herb Vadney of Meredith scored B plus, Stephen Holmes of Alton and Bob Luther of Laconia both scored B and Dennis Field of Sanbornton scored B minus. The lowest scores among the Republicans were posted by Representatives Frank Tilton and Don Flanders of Laconia, both with C plus.

Although the Republican representatives from Belknap County comprise just seven-percent of the 179 members of the GOP caucus in the House, they accounted for 13-percent of the grades of A or better on the Liberty Alliance scorecard.

Among the county Democrats Representatives Beth Arsenault of Laconia and Ruth Gulick of New Hampton scored D plus, Lisa DiMartino of Gilford scored D and Ian Raymond of Sanbornton and David Huot of Laconia scored D minus.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 October 2013 03:03

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Applications for WLNH Children's Auction funding due October 31

LACONIA — The WLNH Children's Auction is accepting applications for funding from organizations in the Lakes Region until October 31.

Molly King said yesterday that the growth of the auction has brought with it greater responsibility to distribute the proceeds to maximize the benefit to the community. As a result, the application process has changed. Applicants fall into four categories, each with a distinct mission. King urged organizations to choose the category that best describes their mission and submit the appropriate application.
The application process, together with a description of the four categories is posted on the website, childrensauction.com.

The first category consist of those organizations that serve the basic needs of children, including but not limited to food, clothing, shelter, hygiene and holiday gifts. Organizations that seek to mitigate or eliminate the need to provide the basic necessities and services for children fall into he second category. The third category includes organizations that invest in capital projects that improve the lives or children or strengthen the agencies that serve them while agencies offering recreational opportunities to children who might not otherwise afford them compose the fourth category.The information required of organizations in each of the four categories is specified on the website. falling into each of the four categories.

In 2012, the Children's Auction distributed $345,000 of the $416,500 raised among 33 charitable and non-profit organizations in the Lakes Region.

Organizations in the first category received $142,000, or 41 percent of the total; those in the second category $155,000, or 46 percent; those in the third category $16,580, or 5 percent; and those in the fourth category $27,000, or 8 percent. The directors held $1,000 in the account for the Doris Makely Memorial Sharing Smiles Scholarship. Likewise, a share of the proceeds have been kept in reserve in the event of an emergency in the community, while other funds have been earmarked to fund an independent audit of the auction.

The Children's Auction is run by an independent board of directors.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 October 2013 03:00

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