By ROGER AMSDEN, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Did the Belknap County Delegation vote to eliminate four corrections officers from the recently approved budget? Or did it set a bottom line number only and not eliminate any jobs?
A Belknap County commissioner and a state representative from Meredith have different views of what transpired.
Belknap County Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) said a presentation by Rep. Marc Abear at the March 10 meeting of the Belknap County Delegation led many people to believe that only two corrections officer positions were being cut from the Belknap County Corrections Department budget.
“At no time did anyone reveal that the time bomb hidden in the confusing presentation on March 10 that not two, but all four corrections officer positions to minimally staff the new Community Corrections Center had been removed from the budget,” wrote Taylor in a letter published in The Laconia Daily Sun on March 28.
He said that the impression left by Abear's presentation was that the two positions being cut were the same ones cut when the delegation removed $55,400 from the department's budget on Feb. 21. But Abear's budget had included those in its work-in-progress line, and the cuts were in addition to those already made.
But Abear disputes that any positions were cut from the Corrections Department budget, noting that after the $27,487,463 budget he proposed was passed by a 9-6 vote, the delegation voted to give the commissioners authority to transfer funds within departments without first seeking approval from the delegation's Executive Committee.
“We didn't cut any positions. We gave the department a nearly 10 percent increase over last year,” said Abear, who said how those funds are spent is up to the commissioners and department heads.
The Corrections Department budget approved by the delegation shows a $333,000 increase, up from $3,481,101 last year to $3,814,227 this year.
Confusion over what exactly had happened at the March 10 meeting was also in evidence when the Executive Committee met Monday morning with the Belknap County Commissioners for a review of county's finances.
Committee Chairman Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont) questioned the format in which information was provided by the commissioners, maintaining that line items did not reflect the budget approved by the delegation.
Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said the line items were changed to reflect the percentage cut in each department and are in line with the authority granted to the commission over line items.
When Sylvia maintained that the authority over line items rests with the delegation and that the budget as passed had contained those line items, Abear corrected him and pointed out that “We gave them authority within departments,” and agreed with DeVoy.
The committee also had some discussion of a $290,810 revenue line which was included in Abear's revenue estimates and was approved by an 8-4 vote of the delegation on March 13.
The revenue is based on anticipated funds from HB413, which would have the state pay 15 percent of the retirement costs for certain categories of municipal employees.
Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia) pointed out that the bill had passed the House but has been referred to the Finance Committee, which retained it, which means that it cannot come up again in House until next year. He said it is extremely unlikely that the county will receive any of that money.
Abear said there is still a chance that the county will receive the money as a result of budget negotiations between the House and Senate.
Commissioners have questioned the estimate and said that, even if the measure is funded, the county will only receive $75,000.
Abear was one of several county legislators who voted against HB 413 but voted to support using the anticipated funds as a revenue in the county budget. Other legislators voting against HB 413 but who supported including it as a revenue in the county budget were Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) and Ray Howard (R-Alton).
Abear and Vadney said they voted against the bill because they think counties, towns and cities should be responsible for funding the retirement costs of their own employees. Both said it is appropriate to use the revenue in the county budget, even though they had opposed HB 413.