by the Hon. Frank McCarthy
The primary responsibility of county delegations is unmistakably made clear in the New Hampshire Legislative Handbook. It states: The County Delegation is the taxpayer’s “WATCHDOG” over county financial matters. It can’t be stated any clearer than that.
The State Legislature, mindful of the potential for epic problems caused by uncontrolled appropriation transfers, and the fact that county delegations needed workable budgetary oversight tools, enacted RSA 24:14, giving county delegations the authority to require, county commissioners to obtain written authority from the delegation’s executive committee prior to transferring an appropriation.
The Municipal Budget Law, RSA 32:10 forbids appropriation transfers in Municipal government without specific approval of the Board of Selectmen. Relative to transparency, the Law also requires that records be kept such that the budget committee, or any citizen, may execute their rights under RSA 91.
Between 2010 and early in 2015 the Carroll County delegation, on numerous occasions and in varying ways attempted to put in place in-house oversight relative to appropriation transfers. Due to a lack of full cooperation on the part of the commissioners, each attempt failed. Finally, taking advantage of the authority vested in the delegation by RSA 24:14, RSA 24:13-d, requiring the Carroll County Commissioners request authority prior to transferring an appropriation in excess of $1,000, was enacted by the Legislature.
During our investigation, leading up to RSA 24:13-d, to our amazement we found the following:
- In most cases, without permission or even the knowledge of the commissioners, more than one million dollars was transferred between line items during the 2011 fiscal year.
- Resulting in more than one hundred violations of RSA 24:15 related to exceeding appropriations.
- In some cases, revenue lines, rather than being deposited into the general fund, as required, were being used as funding for transfers, costing the tax payer tens of thousands of additional dollars.
- One department transferred funds into more than half its total number of budgetary line items.
- Another department exceeded its bottom line. A serious violation.
- As a result of the enactment of RSA 24:13-d, the following became manifest.
The annual number of transfers steadily decreased.
- Data extrapolated from the records, indicated line items needing additional monitoring, and those lines from which surplus funds were available, year after year, were scrutinized more closely for reduction.
- Without question, the oversight law, RSA 24:13-d in just a few years, resulted in significantly more accurate budgeting, tighter budgetary control, which is after all, the primary responsibility of the delegation.
- The system also allows for infinitely more transparency in spending and facilitates citizen oversight.
Now comes a new delegation with a democratic majority. Led by Rep. Desmarais, “D” from Wolfeboro, with all of one year of legislative experience, as its Chairperson. The first bill Rep. Desmarais submitted, in total disregard of the wishes of a majority of the county commissioners, was HB 381, which, if enacted, will repeal, in its entirety, the only oversight available to the delegation related to appropriation transfers, sending Carroll county into the dark ages of unnecessary, uncontrolled, undocumented and extremely costly appropriation transfers. As a result, the Taxpayers of Carroll county, will pay a very steep price!