Belknap County Lawmakers Hammer at Workers

The Belknap County Convention, which is made up of the county’s 18 representatives in the state House, voted Monday to seize budget authority from the Belknap County Commission. This is significant because members of the convention are looking to cut $1.3 million from the budget proposed by the commission, and cuts would impact SEA members who work in the county’s nursing home, sheriff’s and corrections departments.

The vote to take budget control came during a hearing Monday on this year’s budget, several days after the SEA filed a right-to-know request with the chairwoman of the convention, Rep. Collette Worsman, R-Meredith. The request sought information related to possible meetings between Worsman and other convention members regarding the budget that occurred without public notice.

According to the county’s website, the commission is a three-member panel of part-time elected officials that have typically been responsible for “overall supervision, custody and care of all county departments, buildings and land, and have budgetary oversight of all county expenditures.” The annual budget is usually only submitted to the convention for final approval.

Sgt. Bill Wright, an SEA councilor and steward in the Belknap County Sheriff’s Department, was at the meeting Monday and said that in asserting total control over the budget, the convention is misinterpreting a law that specifically refers to Hillsborough County, and makes no mention of Belknap County.

“What they’re doing is cutting out the county commission from the whole process and they’re following a law that’s designed for another county,” Wright said. “So we’re not really sure how this is going to end up.”

While it’s unclear how the process will end up, Wright said one thing that’s clear is that the convention is targeting county workers.

“Ultimately, they’re trying to cut any benefits to the employees, and they’re using the economy as the reasoning behind it,” he said. “Their belief is that people in the private sector are not getting pay raises or special benefits, like sick payout bonuses, so the public sector should not as well.” The SEA opposes this philosophy.  The race to the bottom needs to be stopped.  All workers, private and public, should earn liveable wages, affordable health benefits, and a reasonable retirement benefit.

At their meeting Monday night, the convention called for exactly what Wright predicted,  level funding wages and health insurance for county workers, meaning there would be no money for cost of living increases, merit raises or longevity bonuses, and employees would bear the brunt of any increases in health care costs.

“This whole process is a mess,” Wright said. “The delegation put it back on the commission ‘if you can go back to the budget and find $1.3 million in cuts, that’s what’ we’re looking for.’ “

It’s important to note that the final budget hasn’t been approved.

Wright said he believes that even if the commission finds $1.3 million in cuts, the convention will still reject the proposal.

“The convention is targeting specific spots, and it happens to be the employees,” Wright said. “They’re trying to send a message. We just don’t understand why they’re trying to send us a message.”

The convention is set to meet again at 5 p.m. Feb. 4 at the County Complex. Interested members are encouraged to attend.

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