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Counties have ability to establish charters but none have done so

  • Published in Letters

To The Daily Sun,
New Hampshire Constitution Part II, Article 71 details the responsibilities and powers of county level officials such as a sheriff's department for rural law enforcement, a jail, county attorneys, county treasurers, registrars of probate, and registrars of deeds and may have a nursing home, but is not required to do so. Furthermore, a taxpayer-funded nursing home clearly may not provide rehabilitation service as a source of revenue, competing with the private sector.
Counties have the ability to establish a charter but none has done so. Appropriation laws contain provisions regarding county budget estimates; the commission shall propose annually a county budget to the county convention. A county whose fiscal year is a calendar year January 1st to December 31st, mandates that the commissioners shall deliver or mail to the chairperson of the board of selectmen in each town and the mayor of each city within the county, each member of the county convention and to the secretary of state prior to December 1 annually. The only exception is for counties which are on an optional fiscal year basis, July 1 to June 30 of the following year, which allow the commissioners shall deliver or mail to the chairperson of the board of selectmen in each town and the mayor of each city within the county, each member of the county convention and to the secretary of state prior to June 1.
No county convention shall vote appropriations for the ensuing budget period until 28 days shall have elapsed from the mailing of such recommendations. Appropriations for the first year of each biennium may not be voted until after the first meeting of the county convention.
However, conflicting laws have been established, regarding the counties of Rockingham, Strafford and Hillsborough County? These laws are not applicable to any other county. The laws are exception to December 1, the final date the county commission has to deliver or mail the proposed budget. The exception is prior to January 15. Subsequently, the law governing the annual budget "shall adopt within 90 days delivery" was amended to the beginning of the county's fiscal year if the county operates on a calendar year basis. If the county operates on an optional fiscal year basis pursuant to RSA 31:94-a, then the county convention shall adopt the annual budget not later than September 1, applicable to all 10 counties without exception?
Are the two counties exempted from the new statutory requirement that all county commissions shall deliverer the proposed budget by December 1? Or have the two county commissions lost their 46 day grace period? Moreover, biannually, county commissions have newly elected officers sworn in on Wednesday, January 2, 2013. Two commissions have up to January 15th to have the proposed budget delivered. Therefore, biannually, an outgoing commission need not take any action regarding the budget leaving the responsibility of the newly sworn commission to propose the annual budget for the ensuing fiscal year. Such discretion is not an option to eight commissions regarding the March 31 deadline budget vote or default. The counties still are unable to vote prior to February 12th but are bound by the 90 day deadline. Hillsborough County (RSA 24:13-c) reads like a county charter but is simply law.
The 2014 Legislature has three proposed bills assigned to the Municipal and County Government Committee professed as only applicable to Belknap County. The first question that should be asked is how can the Legislature control what another county's local form of government will be that is not optional for all counties? Why would a county with only 18 votes ever put its county's destiny in the hands of 424 N.H. representatives who have a vested interest in laws which cannot be discriminatory in the constitutional application of a bill of rights? What if one of these counties has a TAX CAP which they want imposed on another or all counties? Can any one of the county convention impose a tax C\cap which must be complied with by the commission regarding a proposed budget? The super majority can amend such proposed legislation so that one or more amendments regarding the "intent/application of all laws involved such as but not limited to any subsection of RSA 24 and 28.
— House Bill 1120 - Amend RSA 24 by inserting 24:13-d. This bill establishes a procedure for appropriations voted by the county convention and transfers of appropriations in the budget for Belknap County.
— House Bill 1370 - This bill requires the executive committee of a county convention to contain a member of a minority party and allows the convention of any county to hire a delegation coordinator. The bill also prescribes the format of the county budget for the purpose of appropriations and transfers.
— House Bill 1373 - This bill establishes requirements for the transfer of appropriations made by the Belknap county budget as adopted by the county convention. The bill also clarifies the obligation to pay the legal expenses of the county convention and county officer and employees acting within the scope of official duty.
County government is not a one man one vote form of government such as town meeting, majority rule. Counties have no specific legal options regarding forms of local government when adopting a county charter. The ex-officio representatives, who form a county convention, are uncontrolled sub-committees of the state Legislature that lack any rules of order or interpretation of a handful of laws.
County charters are governed by RSA 28-A:1- Charter Commission; Petition; Establishment. The commission is governed by RSA 28:1 – 7. A charter commission does not involve the entire 424 members Legislature or Senate approval. A county charter is voted by the residence of a county who shall have the final say, one man one vote. Accordingly, any amendments also fall upon county residence.
What is problematic is that NO COUNTY LOCAL OPTIONS are available to a Charter Commission. Clearly, spot legislation is prohibited similar to spot zoning. The current laws used by three or four counties must be deleted and new law regarding local county options as to the form of government shall be established.
Organization, appropriation and administration governance is not a one model fits all. However, all options shall be available to all 10 counties. The voters of a county may or may not desire to pay for a county commission and a county administrator, all of whom must report to the Executive Committee. Should final county budget be left to the ex-officio legislators or should it be a referendum vote of all the district's voters.
From my research, Hillsborough County law (RSA 24:13-c) is an excellent example of a first step as to what could be A LOCAL COUNTY GOVERNMENT OPTION: Article I - Appropriations; Following budget adoption by the convention, the head of any department, with the approval of the administrator or the commission, but not both, may transfer any line item balance or any portion thereof from one unencumbered line item balance or any portion thereof within his department; The administrator or the commission, but not both, with the approval of the Executive Committee may transfer any unencumbered department's appropriation balance or any portion thereof to from one department to another. (Examples RSA 49-B, 49-C and 48-D)
Thomas A. Tardif