Published DateLACONIA — For the past few years the Belknap County commissioners have taken some summer evenings to visit individual municipal governing boards, visits referred to collectively as "county conversations".
This year, most boards are touring the county facilities and Tuesday it was the Gilford selectmen's turn.
"They (the county) have improved the court house and nursing home wisely," said Board Chair Kevin Hayes, noting he was exceptionally impressed with the Belknap County Nursing Home.
"It was clean, bright, and offers a lot to their residents," Hayes said. "The place was immaculate."
As part of a $2.3 million federal stimulus grant spread over three years, Belknap County was able to upgrade nearly all of its facilities with the exception of the Belknap County House of Corrections. Some of those upgrades included the renovation of the county administrative wing, a historically-sensitive new roof on the county courthouse as well as an overhaul of the HVAC system.
Security was added to the Belknap County Attorney's Offices and the conference room, used by multiple government and community agencies was redone.
Hayes said he liked the new administrative wing, calling it "clean, practical and accessible."
"Again, they have made good use of old space," he said.
Hayes was far more critical when it came to the jail.
"It's deplorable," he said, saying he knows that the people who are incarcerated have either been found guilty of crimes or are accused of crimes and society doesn't want them house in the "Taj Mahal" but that something needs to be done.
He said he goes to the jail once weekly for some Christian outreach counseling but said he had never gone past the visiting room or seen "where those guys and girls come from."
Hayes was especially dismayed at the cramped and hot women's quarters on the second floor where up to 12 women can be housed in a small room with one bathroom.
In his opinion, the purpose of incarceration is primarily for rehabilitation and though the county has put many good work and education programs into place, he said the space limitations clearly effect the ability of those programs to reach the people who need them.
"Recidivism is far too high," he said. "Education is a lot cheaper than incarceration."
After his tour on Tuesday, Hayes said he would support a reasonable proposal for investing into an upgraded county corrections program that would include a new jail.
Hayes was accompanied by Selectman John O'Brien and Town Administrator Scott Dunn. The tour of the facilities was given by Commissioners John Thomas and Steve Nedeau who were accompanied by County Administrator Deb Shackett.
The Commissioner said they were very happy that the individual communities had taken the time to go on the facilities tours. To date, Gilford selectmen, the Laconia City Council, the Barnstead selectmen and the Tilton selectmen have gone on the tour.