2022 Belknap County Budget

Belknap County Seal

The county commissioners are troubled by restrictions placed upon them by the delegation. They have requested to have limits on transfers within the budget removed. Whereas they have a habitude of building into their budgets large surpluses, this would allow for spending far beyond that which is necessary. It is also a typical scheme directed at increasing the fund balance. Such excess taxation without need is egregious in light of the large tax hike coming even if we hold the line on restricting spending to necessities.

The law requires “Appropriations by the county convention shall be itemized in detail.” As such the delegation sets the budget by line items within each department. The commissioners’ request would have us violate the law by giving them a simple bottom line budget for the entire county operation.

The law allows the delegation to appropriate a contingency fund of up to one percent of the budget, ~$300,000, to meet unexpected expenses. As you will see in the 2022 budget, (and this is consistent with past practice) the commissioners use the nursing services department as a buffer for additional spending or for increasing the fund balance. This, in practice, creates a pool of money in the order of 3% of the county budget, which gets redirected to areas perhaps not contemplated for appropriation by the delegation. This unjustly increases taxation.

The Covid crisis, created by a manufactured virus and blown out of proportion by a government propaganda campaign, has taken a toll on people around the globe. It has broken our medical care industry. All nursing homes in the county are all struggling to find nurses. The county nursing home, funded by taxation, has the ability to outbid all others to acquire nurses at the most inflated costs. The unseen cost, should we choose to drive pay rates higher, is that we would steal nurses from other homes. Will it force the closure of a privately run nursing home? The adjustments made by the executive committee smartly balance the needs of our facility with the needs of all the county nursing homes.

The commissioners consider limitations on spending authority (appropriations) to be “a tool to try to bend the Commissioners to a small number of individuals’ political will.” The delegation has elected an executive committee to do the work of assuring adherence to the budget as passed by the delegation. When the executive branch of government seeks to remove oversight by the legislative branch, red flags should be flying. They are seeking a rubber stamp delegation. The executive committee is not interested in playing games of ‘political will.’ Instead they seek to hold the commissioners to following the law.

The commissioners are lobbying for the restoration of $650,000 which was trimmed from their bloated request. This is ~2% of the budget. If we look at the past decade we can see that the budget passed by the delegation – NEVER enough to satisfy the commissioners – supplies enough on average to leave ~7% to be returned to fund balance. This means that even after ‘cutting the budget to the bone,’ taxpayers were hit with a bill 7% higher than was needed.

Your memory need not be exquisite to recall that just last year, after the executive committee finished its work, the commissioners requested the restoration of $444,824 to the budget. This request was rejected by the delegation. At the end of the year over $800,000 was returned to fund balance. The delegation clearly made the right choice in approving the executive committee’s recommendation.

If you want to check my ability to forecast a budget, you can check my comments from last year. “Using such a sensible method will put spending for 2021 at ~$28,900,000.” In fact, the actual (unaudited) spending for 2021 (minus ARPA funds) is ~$29,138,000.

The delegation has high expectations for our department heads, and they always match their performance to that high standard. Our system of government is wisely divided such that the executive branch is not unrestrained. The legislative branch (the delegation) has a duty to appropriate only those monies necessary for the proper operation of the county. The law allows a contingency fund of 1%, yet the commissioners and delegation have allowed budgets with an excess of 7% more than necessary.

The executive committee has, once again, reviewed the commissioners’ budget and done their best to match the budget to real world needs. Their years of experience have served the taxpayers of the county well. The commissioners’ condescending remarks are contemptible and unnecessary. The delegation chose the members of the executive to do the work of carefully examining the commissioners’ budget and bringing a prudent budget for the full delegation to vote upon.

The Duty to Investigate County Affairs

Belknap county delegation

Every two years in New Hampshire almost all elected officials either terminate their service or stand for re-election. Over the course of the past 7 years, documented in this series, many of the faces have changed. In December 2020 over one third of the Belknap County Convention were seated as first term representatives.

While the faces of the Convention have changed, the actions of the commissioners and administration have yet to be subjected to accountability regarding abuses of budget authority.

As you have read, the law is clear regarding appropriations. It is also clear in its path to remedy. One such remedy is provided in RSA 21:17 which allows:

24:17 Investigations. – The county convention by a vote of a majority of all its members may appoint a committee of its own members, not to exceed 5, and not over 3 to be of either of the 2 major political parties, to 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.

We need not look back to previous years of abuse, 2020 provides a prime, and current example for which the committee of investigation may focus.

Having been granted the authority to transfer up to the sum of $5,000 between departments in the budget, it became clear in October 2020 that one department would exceed its $717,000 appropriation.

Executive Committee minutes Oct. 19, 2020
Executive Committee minutes Nov. 16, 2020

The year ended with department 025180 with a budget of $717,000 showing $919,385.88 having been spent, $202,385.88 more than had been appropriated for the department. (page 13)

Belknap County Convention formed a committee of investigation Dec. 14, 2020

As the chairman of the committee of investigations prepared to line up interviews with staff members, the administration was busy putting roadblocks in his path. They refused to pay for a court reporter to properly record testimony. Without properly recorded testimony under oath no investigation could proceed to gather reliable information.

In order to acquire the necessary testimony it became clear that a court order would be needed to assure payment to a court recorder, getting that court order would now require an attorney to represent the committee of investigation.

Chairman Silber held a meeting of the committee in order to seek approval to hire an attorney, who had agreed to allow payment upon the court’s order. Members of the committee failed to go forward in their duties.

The issue will be returned to the Convention on August 10, 2021 at 7:00 pm to resolve questions surrounding the investigation. Of note, the first meeting of the Convention in December 2020 was a mixed, in person and Zoom remote meeting. Many of our new members were unable to grasp the depth of the issues due to the poor quality of communications via remote technology.

Representatives of Belknap county have a duty to investigate conditions pertaining to the conduct of county affairs by any county officer or any person appointed or employed by such officer. Failing to fulfill this duty would be an act of nonfeasance.


All the pieces in this series:

Malfeasance, Misfeasance or Nonfeasance

Belknap county delegation

If you are keeping count you know this is the fifth in the series of posts outlining the problems which continue in Belknap county.

The county administration for 2018 has taken a more low profile strategy in their attempts to take control of appropriating authority. On July 17, 2018 at the Executive Committee review of the budget a little problem popped up.

Separate fund? As in outside the budget? Here we go again.

A little bit a research showed that a scheme was created to allow the sheriff to move outside detail out of the budget.

Note that this dates back to April 3, 2018 shortly after the budget was made final. Also, there is no law that allows for this revolving fund. My criminal complaint was sent to the county attorney and the Attorney General. If you have been following along, you know there would be no criminal investigation.

Once again, on October 18, 2018 the commissioners reverse their action. No harm? No foul?

Back to today’s title, the case for misfeasance seems rather solid. A case for malfeasance is strongly supported. On Tuesday August 10, 2021 the county Convention will look at more recent actions of the commissioners. As chairman of the Convention, I can say that nonfeasance is not an option for the Convention.


All the pieces in this series:

If You Can’t Dazzle Them With Brilliance

Belknap county delegation

The 2017 sprinkler scam fell apart pretty quickly so for 2018 the Belknap county commissioners tried a more stealthy plan to snatch a few bucks from the contingency fund.

During the Executive Committee’s review of the budget on May 11, 2018 we noticed $4,000 had been removed from the contingency fund.

As mentioned, the statute is clear; 24:13 Powers. – II. Notwithstanding any other laws to the contrary, the county convention of any county shall have the power to appropriate a contingency fund to meet the cost of unanticipated expenses that may arise during the year or to provide payment for a performance audit under RSA 28:3-b, to be expended only upon approval by the executive committee of the county delegation.

This was first time we had noticed the missing money, be assured no approval had been sought to transfer the funds.

Once again you can see that this crisis was a total contrivance, as reported in the Laconia Daily Sun, the budget for the department could hardly be stressed in April. And just to drive their scheme a touch further:

He (MacFadzen) asked for $3,000 to be transferred to cover both items.

Commission Vice Chairman Glenn Waring, who chaired Thursday’s meeting due to absence of Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy, and Commissioner Hunter Taylor, said they thought he needed more money than requested and voted to transfer $4,000 to the department.

If you are going to rob the bank why stop at $4,000?

This cute little maneuver (if you can consider such crimes as cute) inspired an inquiry to the county attorney on May 16.

On May 31, 2018 the commissioners kinda, sorta, returned the money to the contingency fund.

It is not at all clear what the ‘transfer’ was, or where the money came from. It is clear that Taylor was doing this begrudgingly and likely because the commissioners heard from the county attorney.

Our beloved local newspaper covered the story.

DeVoy said commissioners agreed to undo the transfer rather than face the prospect of a long, drawn-out legal battle with the delegation over budgetary authority.

“It wasn’t worth it. And the money isn’t needed right now anyway,” he said.

Having returned the money to the bank, the county attorney declared ‘no foul.’

I found this to be less than satisfying considering the history of abuse and forwarded this issue to the Attorney General’s office with some additional details. Somewhere in the stacks of papers in my ‘office’ there is a reply that roughly say, ‘blah, blah, blah, so what?’

Yes, there is more to come…


All the pieces in this series:

It Is Overspent

Belknap county delegation

Just a couple of weeks after the judge made his ruling, as we saw in the last post, the county Executive Committee met to review the county budget. Not that anyone would expect an instant turnabout, and the commissioners were busy spending more taxpayer money in legal fees to challenge the court order, the Executive Committee found spending beyond what had been appropriated.

September 15, 2014 Executive Committee budget review.

And the legal bills would come to the Executive Committee in the form of a transfer request February 17, 2015. Note the comment of the newly appointed (Republican) commissioner Hunter Taylor.

February 17, 2015 Executive Committee meeting.

The Convention in 2015 set a line-item transfer limit of $800, an increase from $300 in 2014, allowing the commissioners more flexibility in moving money between lines in the budget.

2015 transfer authority

In 2016 that limit was increase to $1,000. By the summer of 2016 we would start to see signs of problems ahead.

There is a word that describes spending beyond that which is appropriated; misappropriation. Perhaps you recall the earlier statement by commissioner Taylor?

24:15 Exceeding Appropriations. –
I. No county commissioner, or 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 rendered against the county.
II. In the case of an emergency, the county commissioners, or an elected or appointed county officer, may apply to the executive committee, which, after a public hearing, may grant to the county commissioners or officer authority in writing to make such emergency payment.

IV. If any county commissioner, or elected or appointed county officer, is found in a prosecution for violation of RSA 643:1 to have paid or incurred any liability for the payment of any sum of money contrary to this section, it shall be prima facie evidence that such county commissioner or officer has knowingly refrained from performing a duty imposed by law.

We can clearly see that funds had been spent beyond appropriations in August of 2016 but we can not say who is responsible for the misappropriation. That would have required an investigation and prosecution.

643:1 Official Oppression. – A public servant, as defined in RSA 640:2, II, is guilty of a misdemeanor if, with a purpose to benefit himself or another or to harm another, he knowingly commits an unauthorized act which purports to be an act of his office; or knowingly refrains from performing a duty imposed on him by law or clearly inherent in the nature of his office.

We can see in this November 22, 2016 Executive Committee meeting that the county administrator is aware of the issue, yet the commissioners deny knowledge.

At this point you might start asking yourself why I don’t grab a mirror and have a look at my responsibility for allowing this to continue. Good point. While there will be more in the next installment, I’ll give you a glimpse of the past when I previously brought up the need for an investigation. From January 12, 2015, you can get a sense of the cool reception.

We will come to see there is little appetite in government to hold ourselves accountable, but I will not stop so easily. More to come…


All the pieces in this series:

Irreparable Harm to the Taxpayers

For far too long the Belknap County Board of Commissioners have been usurping budgetary authority from the county Convention. This was seemingly corrected in 2014 when the Convention won an injunction barring the commission from acting without authority given by the Convention’s Executive Committee.

Some highlights from the court’s ruling:

Upon review, the Court agrees with the petitioner’s argument. The legislature has created a comprehensive scheme of checks and balances for the creation and implementation of county budgets. Voters elect state representatives, who make up the county conventions of the counties from which they are elected. Voters also elect a board of commissioners for each respective county. The commissioners draft proposals for the county budget, which they present to the county convention. The County convention then votes on a finalized budget, taking the commissioners’ proposals into account. Once passed, the effective budget for the following year is returned to the county commissioners so that they may execute it.

Should the petitioner prevail on its merits, then this would necessarily mean that that respondent has been transferring and spending taxpayer money outside of the scope of its authority under law. If the Court were to deny this request for temporary relief, then this would allow the respondent to continue this practice until a final disposition in this suit was rendered.

The possibility of the continued unauthorized transfer and expenditure of taxpayer money, especially in the wake of the likelihood that the petitioner will succeed in this case on the merits as discussed below, creates the prospect of immediate and irreparable harm to the taxpayers of Belknap County. This factor therefore also militates in favor of the Court granting the petitioners request for temporary injunctive relief.

August 28, 2014 ruling from Belknap Superior Court judge James D. O’Neill, III.

If the respondent continues to transfer and expend funds during the pendency of this case, there is the very real possibility that the vast majority of the 2014 budget will be expended by the time the Court issues a final disposition.

Applying the above standard, the Court finds that under the plain meaning of RSA 24:14, line-items in the 2014 budget constitute “appropriations.” RSA 24:14, II defines an “appropriation” as “an amount of money authorized for a specified purpose by the legislative body.” [emphasis added.] In this definition, the legislature made no distinction between money allocated to departments generally and to specific line-items within each department. Instead it defined “appropriations” broadly. The definition on its face suggests that line-items fall under this provision.

Additionally, RSA 24:14, I, states that “[a]ppropriations by the county convention shall be itemized in detail.” (emphasis added.) The legislature’s use of the word “shall” in RSA 24:14, I, not only suggest that conventions are permitted to itemize their budgets, but appears on its face to expressly require them to do so.

This reading of the definition of “appropriations” is also supported by the way in which RSA 24:14 functions in conjunction with RSA 24:15. RSA 24:14, I, grants conventions the power to “require that the county commissioners obtain written authority from the Executive Committee before transferring any appropriation or part thereof under RSA 24:15.” RSA 24:15, III reads:

Unless otherwise ordered by the county convention, under RSA 24:14, whenever it appears that the amount appropriated for a specific purpose will not be used in whole or in part for such purpose, the county commissioners may use such sum to augment other appropriations, if necessary, provided the total payments for all purposes do not exceed the total sum of appropriations in any year made by the county convention.

Thus, while commissioners are generally afforded limited authority to transfer funds between appropriations, county conventions are explicitly reserved the power to regulate these transfers by requiring the written consent of the Executive Committee. If line items were not “appropriations” under RSA 24:14, then this would severely hamper the ability of a county convention to utilize this power. The respondent’s reading of RSA 24:14, I, would give commissioners virtually unfettered ability to transfer funds under RSA 24:15, III without regard to convention restrictions under RSA 24:14, I, as long as transfers were made between line-items within the same budgetary department. County conventions would either have to substantially alter the way by which they formulate budgets in order to ensure that fewer items were outside of the scope of these provisions, or resign themselves to the fact that they have limited oversight over how commissioners expend appropriated funds. This would encompass an unwarranted erosion of the power expressly afforded to the county conventions on the face of RSA 24:14, I.

On March 3, 2015 the county commissioners submitted to the court a stipulation, agreeing to abide by the law and seek transfer authority as adopted in the yearly budget.

You might think this would be the end of budgetary shenanigans at Belknap County. Who could fault you for thinking the commission would abide by their word.

To be continued… It Is Overspent


All the pieces in this series:

Stop the Fear

Project Veritas has recently exposed CNN for using fear to attract viewers. It is a shameful technique used widely in media and politics. Your local ‘news’ paper uses it more than you may realize.

In a recent story about the Belknap County nursing home’s difficulty in finding nursing staff, it was made to sound as if this was an isolated problem for the county home. The reality is there is a wide spread problem in nursing in general. The problem is made worse by the easy availability of generous unemployment benefits.

As I know what is going on and I attended the commissioners’ meeting that spawned the article, I was not concerned. We have an excellent administrator at the Belknap County nursing home and the residents receive 5 star care.

A few days after the article appeared I received a call from a friend. She has a loved one residing at the nursing home. The story in the paper, as she read it, made it sound like the nursing home was going to be closed. I assured her that the nursing home is not closing and she could relax.

This was not a case of sloppy writing, it was carefully crafted to sow fear. This is shown in a more recent piece written about the county delegation investigation into spending irregularities.

Having attended the meeting from which this latest article arose, I found it odd that two references were made to oxygen in the nursing home. It was implied that there was insufficient funds available to have oxygen supplied to nursing home residents. It has nothing to do with the investigation and not a word about oxygen was spoken in the meeting. It seems only to be inserted to stoke fear of patients lacking proper care.

I immediately recognized this to be a manufactured ‘crisis,’ before I went to check the budget.

As of June 6, 2021, which covers the first 42% of the year, the budget for oxygen has spent 29%. From a budget of $39,000 only $11,266 has been spent. In fact, the estimate for the year end is that $9,000 will remain in the oxygen budget. Note that this is based on the very frugal delegation budget, the county commissioners had budgeted $49,800 for the year. What’s $20,000 between friends? Some might call it fraud.

More than enough in the budget for oxygen. And 1/2 million excess in nursing services!

2020 Final Belknap County Budget

Belknap county delegation

On Monday February 24, the Belknap County delegation met to complete its work on the 2020 budget. The grand total of expense lines total $30,829,837, an increase over the 2019 budget of $827,065. While the budget over budget increase appears to be in line with inflation at 2.75%, the increase as compared to the actual 2019 spending is approximately 5.7%. This means that in order to avoid out running inflation the administration will have to control spending to $30,053,004. This is far from a tall order as there is plenty of excess built in to provide for operational savings.

On the revenue side the budget expects to bring in $15,168,250 and uses $891,080 from undesignated fund balance, leaving $14,770,507 to be raised from taxes. This is the same tax level as last year.

In 2018 taxes were needlessly raised by over 14% which has led to a very flush fund balance held in reserve, which sits at approximately $4.2 million. You should understand that is money that was taken from taxpayers unnecessarily. It represents 13% of operational expenses sitting in the county’s bank account not the citizens’.

The delegation also, on Monday, approved cost items for three collective bargaining agreements. The unit covering the sheriff’s department gives 3% step increases each year over the 3 year term. The Corrections department and the Nursing Home both will receive 5% steps each year for the 4 years of the contract. Each of these contracts will, over time, bring the employee’s contribution toward health insurance up to 10%.

Belknap County Budget Up 13% For 2020

Year End County Budget Evaluation

Saturday, December 28, 2019

As the year comes to a close, we will soon have final budget figures for 2019. There are two possible labor cost items that may effect the 2020 budget that will be considered on Monday the 30th. There are a number of items which were not in the 2019 budget for which the commissioners believe they can encumber funds. I consider this to be a misappropriation of funds from the 2019 budget; other than the funding for Community Health Services Network, LLC., the monies being spent are for items which lacked a 2019 appropriation.

A long running dispute over appropriation authority seemed to have been settled with a ruling from the Belknap Superior court. On March 3, 2015 the county commissioners signed off on a stipulation agreement. The ruling reaffirmed the provisions of RSA 24:14 and further acknowledged that the delegation has appropriation authority down to individual lines in the budget. With no regard for the law and the clear direction of the delegation, the commissioners have allowed 5 departments in the nursing home to exceed their appropriations for 2019. The commissioners, having been caught, are now claiming that the nursing home is a department all to itself. This is pure nonsense. Department defined; a category consisting especially of a measurable activity or attribute. In our budgets these are segments which are divide out and considered separately. For instance, ‘outside agencies’ are not part of the county government, yet they are grouped together as a unit within the budget. As to the nursing home, the minutes of the delegation’s votes on February 20, 2019 explicitly refer to 7 of the 11 distinct segments as “departments.” Even commissioner Waring asked about staffing in the “activities department” (only found in the nursing home) at the December 19, 2019 commissioners’ meeting.

The delegation appropriated $30,002,772 to cover county expenses in 2019. As we come to a close of the year we see that final figures for the gift to Community Health Services Network, LLC. has not been determined. So for 2019the only amount given was the appropriation of 2018 of $759,505. The remaining $1,152,510 will be included in the excess taxation figure which the commissioners euphemistically call ‘operational savings’. That will bring the ‘operational savings’ figure for the year to $1,735,763 (Dec 18, 2019). When we deduct that from the amount appropriated we get $28,267,009 that was needed to run the county in2019. Actually that number is a bit high and does not account for the misappropriations made during the year.

Now for the 2020 budget the commissioners have asked for $31,982,847 (which does not account for new labor agreements). This is a 13% increase over 2019 spending. Because the 2019 budget was so inflated they can claim it is ONLY a 6.6% increase budget over budget.

On the revenue side of the budget game the county brought in $810,932 more than estimated. This is money you were taxed and will be rolled into the fund balance. Fund balance is money the commissioners prefer to keep in their accounts so they have it available, and you don’t.

2020 Belknap County Budget

The Belknap county commissioners have released their proposed budget for 2020. Their budget would spend $31,982,847 which is 6.6% more than the 2019 budget. They provide for spending $1,500,000 from unrestricted fund balance which will result in a tax increase of 6.4%. The county delegation will meet Friday, December 13th at 7:00 to receive a presentation and get public comments.

These figures will stun anyone that is at all familiar with economics. Belknap county has an aging population and growth is very limited. If the county was growing, and keeping pace with inflation (2.5%), the proposal would still be double what would be reasonable. When government outruns the pace of economic growth and inflation, the stage is set for an unpleasant and possibly sharp decline.

If the delegation is to take its responsibility for this budget we will need to reduce the commissioners’ request substantially. Fortunately, the commissioners allow plenty of room to adjust their inflated desires. If we look at the 2019 budget and compare it to actual spending we’ll see there was more than a million dollars stuffed in the budget that was unnecessarily taken from the pockets of the county taxpayers.

Let me show you the money. In 2019 the delegation appropriated $30,002,772 to cover county expenses. From that we deduct the ‘operational savings’(unspent budgeted funds) of $1,162,812, we get $28,839,960 which was spent on county operations. This amount also includes spending of funds that were not appropriated by the delegation. To get to a realistic budget number for 2020, take the amount spent in 2019,subtract the amounts spent without authorization and add 2.5% for inflation. That will put you in the neighborhood of $29.6 million.

Rest assured, that real world math would not please those that have to manage the budget. And I wouldn’t stop there. That budget includes an unconstitutional gift to a private corporation (Community Health Services Network, LLC.) of $620,000. [Art.]10. [Right of Revolution.] Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men… Taking of taxpayers’ money and giving it to a corporation does not fit the standard of ‘common benefit’. So,there we are, a budget that should be $29 million not $32 million.

If we look back to the 2019 budget process, the executive committee was tasked with producing a budget. We brought a budget of $29,144,306 to the full delegation (note that this was $300,000 more than needed) and it was rejected. The commissioners sold their fear campaign to a new crop of legislators and the taxpayers coughed up an extra $850,000 to ensure no management skills would be required.

If the delegation gets anywhere near a budget that I could vote for, expect a lot of drama from County Drive. I’m willing to suffer the whining if the taxpayers don’t get gouged in the process.