To The Daily Sun,
Belknap's County Commission is responsible for the spending down of money, established by the delegation, consisting of all the specified individual line item purpose amounts comprising the annual budget.
After years of shirking this responsibility, a concern about over-spending has been exposed. The habit of ignoring or violating laws was addressed by the county convention that requires the county commissioners obtain written authority from the Executive Committee (EC) before transferring any appropriation or part thereof. A court order issued last year by the Belknap County Superior Court prohibits transfers of more than $300 between budget line items or departments without approval of the EC. Transfer request are granted or denied first by vote of commission and if granted, presented to the Executive Committee for final approval.
Habit starts at the top. The commission is currently composed of: David D. DeVoy II, chairman, Hunter Taylor, vice-chairman and Richard B. Burchell, clerk. The statutory composition of a Belknap County Commission has no provision for a "vice-chairman". (RSA28:1)
However, old habits are hard to break, as seen by the current public revelation that transfer requests are being made after the budget line item for the accounts have been over expended. Hunter Taylor, vice chairman, pointed out that it's a violation of existing appropriation expenditures for purposes after the annual budget has been adopted.
The taxing authority is the delegation. It is they who set the annual budget. The commission is the administrator of the budget. It's the delegations's Executive Committee which ensures proper management of the budget in compliance with the law.
Exceeding of any line item appropriation amount, absent an emergency, is not allowed. In the event a department's line-item purpose estimated amount has been satisfied, the unencumbered amount is available for transfer. In the event a department's line-item purpose estimated amount is less that the actual cost, a transfer of unencumbered department funds may be utilized for the necessary completion of that purpose.
Questions that need to be asked and answered are at what point in the fiscal year have transfers taken place. How soon are individual line items purposes identified as accomplished, encumbered, and if the actual cost is less than estimated what is the unencumbered/surplus amount available for transfer? The annual budget is being pre-encumbered for 90 days prior to adoption. What are the assurances that transfers are not taking place unabated for the fiscal year budget yet to be adopted for up to 90 days?
County commissions, over the years, hire administrators and fiscal officers who are expected to comply with the letter of the laws — to wit, report to the commission on the status of encumbrances of appropriation for all the individual line item purposes which comprise the annual grand total appropriation for the fiscal year. These appointed officials who report to the Executive Committee of potential cost overruns or a lack of revenues necessary for offsetting appropriations affecting individual line item purposes.
Administrative habit is unabashed, "there were several budget lines already over-expended for which no transfer requests have yet been made." Clearly, appointed and or elected officials have exercised assumed authority (powers) that they do not have.
No elected or appointed county officer, shall pay, or agree to pay, or incur any liability for the payment of, any sum of money for which the county convention has made no appropriation, or in excess of any appropriation so made except for the payment of judgments.
Our representative forms of governments — convention and commission — are dependent on appointed professionals, who rarely are challenged. However, not long ago an appointed administrator failings were discovered, and applicable penalties imposed. In this instance, not one commissioner called for any punitive action or penalty.
County budgetary law demands transparency. Once again it's the county delegation who must step up to the plate and investigate conditions pertaining to the conduct of county affairs by any county officer or any person appointed or employed by such officer, which committee shall have power to summon witnesses, examine them under oath, secure a transcript of the testimony and do other necessary acts to conduct such an investigation. (RSA 24:17)
Is it time for a county charter, so that the voters, taxpayer elected and appointed officers and employees know exactly where to look to ensure government is operating in the best interest of all involved?
Thomas A. Tardif