LACONIA — Seven county departments have been identified as the mostly likely targets of a probe in the handling of county finances.
The departments were enumerated Monday when a special Belknap County Delegation investigative committee met to approve hiring an attorney to assist the panel in its investigation of budget transfers.
The three-member committee unanimously approved engaging an attorney Monday evening, according to draft minutes of the 18-minute meeting.
Prior to taking the vote, committee chair, state Rep. Norm Silber, said the panel expects to scrutinize the financial transactions of the County Nursing Home, County Administration, the County Commission, the Finance Office, and the Gunstock Recreation Area.
He said other county departments were “not ripe for us to look into.”
However, state Rep. Barbara Comtois said she believed a limited examination of past transactions in the Sheriff’s Department and Corrections Department were also warranted. These were then added to the list of “suggested priority areas” of the probe.
Silber indicated to the panel that he suspected that some county officials have disregarded the financial restrictions the County Delegation has placed on the county commissioners and department heads.
“Good stewardship does not include disobeying the law, getting caught, then redoing it, and then trying to say, ‘OK we’ll take it back,’” he said. “I think in some areas we’re going to find that may have occurred. But we don’t know.”
Delegation members have said the commission has approved or countenanced money being transferred from one area of the county budget to another in amounts greater than what is allowed by the delegation.
County Commission Chairman Peter Spanos has criticized the investigation as unnecessary and a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Silber has blamed the county commissioners for escalating the probe into an adversarial proceeding when the commissioners hired an attorney and decided county employees will appear before the investigative panel only if they are issued a subpoena.
The commissioners counter that they have proposed that instead of conducting an investigation that the delegation hire an independent firm to conduct a peer review audit of the county’s financial statements which would determine if there are any irregularities or mismanagement of county funds.
The County Delegation approved a budget of up to $5,000 to conduct the probe. However, the disbursement of funds must be approved by a Superior Court judge before the county can issue any payment.