As part of its decision making process, the Belknap County Delegation agreed that NH RSA 24:15 would guide fund expenditures of the 2013 Belknap County Budget. The delegation voted, per N.H. statute, to require the commissioners receive prior written permission from the Executive Committee to transfer funds within a department or between departments. In the past, concerns have been voiced that the commissioners may have not spent your hard earned tax money wisely.
Our system of government, on the county, state and federal levels, has intentionally been set up with "checks and balances" for a reason. The commissioners form the Executive Branch, while the convention is the Legislative arm. Two separate body politics designed to serve and protect the citizens of our county, state, and nation — and both, obviously necessary.
Specific examples of inappropriate spending are cited below.
According to the headlines of March 21, 2013, the Belknap County Jail is in real need of repairs. This is not a new issue. So why has nothing been done? The short answer is that the Belknap County Commissioners did not see this as a priority. In 2010 and 2011, the county received $2,656,682 in stimulus money. This money would have funded significant repairs. So what, you might ask, did the commissioners choose as their priorities? The funds were spent on a phone system, dispatch consoles, community corrections, and finance software; maintenance expenditures included duct cleaning, the installation of a vent hood, roof repairs, and the installation of a HVAC system in the courthouse. The largest waste of this stimulus money was expended for the county complex renovation, which included building separate offices for each of the commissioners and furnishing such as fancy new chairs and tables. Additionally, this renovation forced the Extension Service to move out, resulting in inconvenience to residents and added lease expenses to the county taxpayers. But for the tremendous publicity it got, it almost included a gym for the employees. No additional funds were expended for repairs or maintenance of the Belknap County Jail, which was already in need of repairs at the time.
Also receiving tremendous media coverage was the lawsuit against our Register of Deeds. In addition to the issues that resulted, most shameful is the fact that the attorney's fees of the commissioners were paid, at the expense of the taxpayers, but those of our Register of Deeds still remain unpaid despite the delegation appropriating funds to do so.
In another lawsuit, the commissioners sued the State of N.H., challenging the constitutionality of the reduction of the state's share of their employee retirement funding. When they lost this case, the commissioners then appealed to the Supreme Court, again they lost. Still not happy, they filed a motion to reconsider. This request was denied. Again, all legal fees were at the expense of the taxpayers.
Most recently, rather than accept and live within the directives of N.H. laws and statutes, the commissioners sought council to circumvent the statutes. They hired Sharon Somers of Donahue, Tucker & Ciandella, PLLC, to attack the Belknap County Delegation. They refused to accept the oversight of the delegation. The commissioners also rejected the cost saving measures outlined by the delegation, wasting additional taxpayer funds by preventing the convention from seeking the services of our County Attorney in a legal matter. More wasted taxpayer money.
As shameless as these examples are, in my opinion, the worst travesty to the taxpayers is the over-taxing that has resulted from these less-than-honest budgeting actions. During many recent years, the commissioners have presented budgets that underestimated revenue and overstated expenses. Consequently, more hard-earned money has been required in the form of increased taxes from the residents of this county.
Remember, the delegation is comprised of your local representatives who are responsible for appropriating the funds per line of the Belknap County Annual budget. The commissioners' responsibilities are to handle the day-to-day duties within the amount approved per line by your representatives (the delegation.)
Your representatives have been working overtime to limit unnecessary expenditures and reduce the tax burden on our fellow citizens. It is our intent to reduce taxation by budgeting for what is mandatory and essential and to ensure that your funds are spent wisely.
Please note these are my comments and do not necessarily represent all members of the convention.
Rep. Colette Worsman
Gilford & Meredith