Puzzle Pieces

When you buy a puzzle the box gives you lots of useful information. Of course, the first is the pretty picture that you will be assembling. The box will give you ideas on how many pieces there will be and maybe an experience level for those putting it together. Puzzles are interesting and entertaining, good stuff for your brain.

Politics is a bit of a different puzzle. You likely have no idea the sort of fun you will have when you open that box. In a lot of ways you get to build your own puzzle in the political world; choose your challenge. Even as you are building your own, you may not know what it will look like when you’re done.

Today I’ll look at a couple of pieces that fit together that I had not recognized as they slipped together without me noticing.

Budget battles are particularly invigorating, if you want to spend the county taxpayer’s money you’re going to get resistance from me. Such was the case in 2017 when we had a fairly conservative delegation in Belknap county. We trimmed back the commissioners’ bloated spending plan to something not too egregious.

County commissioners like many managers want a bit extra in their budgets so they don’t have to work so hard at actually managing the budget. It’s much easier to have an extra million in the budget than it is to control expenses to finish the year without running out of money. In 2017 they hooted and hollered so much at the ‘tight’ appropriation that the Town of Belmont’s selectboard felt the need to chime in with a letter to the commissioners, and the Laconia Daily Sun. I can only guess what inspired them as there are no clues to be found in the minutes of the Board of Selectmen. There may be a missing puzzle piece here that I need to find. That or the board was acting outside of public view.

The budget crisis in Belknap county was so bad that the commissioners were forced to request a supplemental appropriation. That’s their story. Because such requests must be sent out to the towns and city of Laconia, I did my selectboard the service of laying out the reality of the budget in a letter. On July 31, 2017 the minutes of the selectmen note that they received my correspondence. After the meeting they went in to non-public session under RSA 91-A:3 II c (Matters which, if discussed in public, would likely affect adversely the reputation of any person, other than a member of the public body itself, unless such person requests an open meeting. This exemption shall extend to any application for assistance or tax abatement or waiver of a fee, fine, or other levy, if based on inability to pay or poverty of the applicant.) at which time they discussed the need to check my property for possible code violations. This seems curious, especially because I was never invited – unless such person requests an open meeting. – so sue me.

The taxpayers lost this little skirmish, and the commissioners would be able to sit out the rest of the year fat and happy.

As our section of the puzzle comes to a close at the end of 2017, you can see that the delegation had appropriated $933,604 (2017 audit) more than was needed for operations. Even before $256,852 was raised from a supplemental appropriation, the commissioners had $676,752 more than was needed to ‘fully fund’ the jail.

So why do I find the need to write about this stuff two years after the fact? One piece of the puzzle was the county budget; another was the Town of Belmont’s special interest in county affairs. Those two came together on July 31, 2017. They were hidden from view until I received discovery after the town chose to sue me. They have caused me to do a lot of review of the past. They have opened up a view to this puzzle and the connections to other pieces that are attached.

Puzzle image credit

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