City Councl taking stand against $42.5M county jail

LACONIA — On the recommendation of Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5), the City Council last night instructed City Manager Scott Myers to draft a letter to the Belknap County Commission, copied to the Belknap County Convention, expressing its concerns about the current plans for constructing a new county jail.
Hamel based his misgivings on reports of the conceptual plan presented by Ricci Greene Associates, a consulting firm engaged by the commission to assist with the planning process. The plan envisions a two-story, 94,450-square-foot facility estimated to cost $42.5-million. It would have 180 beds, plus five for inmates requiring medical care. A third of the beds — 44 for men and 16 for women — would be reserved for inmates awaiting trial, on work release, undergoing treatment or on electronic monitoring. The remaining 120 beds — 88 for men and 32 for women — would be allotted to maximum, medium, and minimum security inmates as well as those with special needs.
The major feature of the project is the community corrections component, an array of therapeutic services, educational programs and vocational training to prepare inmates for a successful return to the community. Rici Greene projected that operating the facility would require 49 full-time employees, 21 more than are currently on the payroll. Personnel costs, which are currently $1.6-million per year would climb by $2.7-million to reach $4.2-million.
The commission insists that the cost of the project will be significantly less than the consultant's estimate and intends to ask the Belknap County Convention for between $2-million and $3-million to fund architectural and engineering work, which will identify where costs can be reduced.
Last week, Representatives Bob Greemore (R-Meredith), vice-chair of the convention, and Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), chairs of its executive committee, said that a majority of the convention is unwilling to pursue the project on the basis of the current plan. Thirteen of the conventions 18 members are Republicans, as are two out of three of the commissioners.
Hamel said that since approximately 20-percent of the county property tax commitment is borne by Laconia the project would place an onerous burden on the city's taxpayers.
Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3), chairman of the Finance Committee who has already voiced his concerns to the commission, roughly calculated that the city's share of the debt service and operating costs of the facility as proposed would match or exceed the limit on the amount to be raised by property taxes set by the local property tax cap.
Acknowledging that there are "significant deficiencies" at the existing county jail, Lipman said that the commission should be asked to "start with what property taxpayers can afford."
Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4) suggested that the council copy its letter to the county convention members.
Laconia would be the first municipality among the eleven in the county to officially record its concerns about the project.