LACONIA — A recommendation that county officials seek permission when they move money from one part of a department’s budget to another amounts to unneeded and ineffective micromanagement, county commissioners said in a letter to the county’s legislative delegation.
The delegation’s executive committee made the recommendation in a meeting Monday in which they also proposed cutting $2 million from the County Commission’s $31 million budget request for 2019. Cuts would include $1.2 million that was to be doubled with federal money and allocated for mental health care, substance use treatment and other social services.
The delegation, which has final say on the county’s budget, is considering a spending plan that would reduce the amount of money to be raised by taxes by 9 percent. The commissioners’ proposal, released last month, would increase the amount to be raised by taxes by 5 percent.
Under present rules, if county officials notice spending is unexpectedly high in one category within a department, they can make sure needed money is there by transferring money from another department category where spending was down.
Under the proposed policy, which could be discussed in a Delegation meeting Friday night, any such transfer of more than $1,000 would have to be approved by the delegation’s executive committee.
A letter from the commissioners to the delegation called the restriction severe. While the restriction was not in force last year, it had been required in some previous years.
“Every department head expressed dismay at having to spend another year without the ability to re-prioritize as necessary, to deal with emerging situations as they occur or to manage their departmental budget in the most effective manner,” the letter stated.
“In the past, this effort to restrict departmental transfers has resulted in over 90 transfer requests in a year, in unnecessary additional meetings, unwillingness of the Executive Committee to meet in a timely fashion, public criticism of employees who fail to accurately predict unforeseen events, and the inability to address the constantly changing provision of services.”
County Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy said in an interview Thursday there are logistical challenges in convening the delegation’s executive committee in a timely fashion for every transfer over $1,000 and there is a cost involved.
Delegation members get $20, plus mileage, for attending such meetings. DeVoy estimates it costs about $250 to stage a meeting over an expenditure as small as $1,000.
“We have a new delegation chairman who wants to control everything,” DeVoy said. “He wants his finger on every transaction in the county and we don’t think we need that supervision.”
The delegation selected Rep. Mike Sylvia, R-Belmont, as its chairman last month.
For his part, Sylvia said New Hampshire law gives the delegation the authority to limit fund transfers and to require commissioners to first seek approval.
Sylvia said more oversight is needed for transfers.
“In my opinion, last year there was a lot of money spent that was not appropriated,” he said.
One such spending area was a training program for licensed nursing assistants, he said.
“It’s a good program, but it was not appropriated,” Sylvia said.
Another item was a payment for a contract nurse that was needed in the Corrections Department. He doesn’t question the need for the nurse, but feels it was a misappropriation to make the payment.
At the county nursing home’s kitchen, a decision was made to buy a new oven to replace one that had not been functional for nine years. Sylvia said it would have been better to buy a steamer.
“A steamer is a dangerous piece of equipment if not functioning properly,” Sylvia said. “They skipped the more important thing.”
Sylvia also objects to county commissioners’ plans to send $1.2 million to the state Department of Health and Human Services to be doubled with federal funds and allocated to Community Health Services Network LLC, a network of organizations providing mental health care, substance use treatment and other social service support.
The $1.2 million comes from a windfall of federal money the county receives for covering uncompensated care at the county nursing home.
He said this expenditure would amount to a gift to the Community Health Services Network.
“This is a demonstration project operating under a federal waiver, to see if it can be built and sustained,” Sylvia said. “Frankly, I don’t believe it can.
“Addiction is a particularly hard problem. It’s not something you can force or coerce. A person won’t recover until they want to. To say that you can cure these people by throwing money at them, sorry, it’s not true.
“We can spend a tremendous amount of money and not get any results and build an industry out of sympathy for these people, who are in a terrible position, but I don’t see this as a solution.”
DeVoy said the Community Health Services Network is a nonprofit that works effectively and cost-efficiently to help people with mental illness and substance abuse issues.
He said it makes sense for the county to use federal money to outsource some of this treatment, rather than take the more costly step of hiring new county employees. He also said it’s not unusual or problematic for the county to partner with private providers.