Delegation rejects budget cuts by a single vote

By ROGER AMSDEN, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — The Belknap County Delegation rejected by a single vote Tuesday night a plan which would have cut the proposed county budget by over $300,000 and eliminated funding for three outside agencies.
The proposal by Delegation Vice Chairman Ray Howard (R-Alton) called for cutting the $28,198,491 budget proposed by county commissioners to $27,681,889 and increasing revenue estimates by nearly $500,000, to $14,718,449. Howard projected that his proposal would result in lowering the amount to be raised by taxes to $12,963,440, the same as was raised last year.
Included in his proposal was completely eliminating funding for the Belknap County Conservation District, ($92,400), the Belknap Economic Development Council ($75,000) and Genesis Behavioral Health ($31,245).
He also called for cutting two of the five members of the activities staff at the county nursing home for a savings of $63,754 and incorporated about $180,000 in cuts the delegation had adopted last week on a preliminary basis in his proposal.
Howard maintained that the conservation district is a private business which "gives federal tax dollars to private landowners to increase the value of their property." Donna Hepp, chairperson of the district, said the district is not a private company, but a recognized adjunct of county government with a 70-year history which is run by an all-volunteer board of directors and has one full-time employee. She said that district returns $12.50 in value for every dollar invested by the county.
Howard has also critical of the Belknap Economic Development Council, which he said was granted seed money by the county when it was formed 25 years ago and has continued to rely on the county for funding a portion of its operations.
But Rep. Dave Huot (D-Laconia) said that the conservation district and the BEDC have provided tremendous services to the county and that he viewed the proposed cuts as "a slap in the face to people in county government."
Howard maintained that the cuts he proposed at the nursing home are justified by new technology investments at the county home which provide more reliable services for electronic devices which would keep residents occupied and reduce the need for activities staffers.
Nursing Home Director Shelley Richardson said that the staffers were necessary to maintaining the needed level of activities for residents and that with only three staffers one of the wings would be without activities at all when a staffer was taking residents on a field trip with the department's van.
Commissioners Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) and Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) maintained that the budget proposed by commissioners is frugal and urged legislators to support the budget as proposed.
Voting to support Howard's proposed cuts were Delegation Chairman Herb Vadney (R-Meredith), Rep. Glenn Aldrich (R-Gilford), Rep. Barbara Comtois (R-Barnstead) , Rep. Peter Varney (R-Alton) and Rep. Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont).
Opposing the motion for cuts were Rep. Marc Abear (R-Meredith), Rep. Dennis Fields (R-Sanbornton), Rep. Tim Lang (R-Sanbornton), Rep. Peter Spanos (R-Laconia), Rep. Robert Fisher (R-Laconia), Rep, Valerie Fraser (R-New Hampton) and Rep. Dave Huot (Laconia)
Last week the delegation took four-and-a-half hours to make several cuts to the proposed budget, including funds for a county human resources director ($65,540), a full-time dispatcher for the Sheriff's Department ($42,645) and the hiring of two Department of Corrections officers ($53,344). But they rejected an effort to cut nearly $70,000 from the county attorney's budget and a bid to do away with outside details for the Sheriff's Department, which would have saved $35,000 but cost the county more than $12,000 in revenue. And they made several budget cuts of less than $10,000 in other departments.
The delegation is scheduled to resume its budget deliberations on Friday, March 10, at 6 p.m. and has scheduled followup sessions, if needed, on March 13, 20, 24 and 28, all at 6 p.m. The nursing home, restorative justice and outside agency budgets have still not been reviewed.

Gilmanton farmers join forces

03 01 Gilmantons Own Cows

Alicia Smith, at Hammer Down Farm in Gilmanton, sees the Gilmanton's Own initiative as "Farmers helping farmers." (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

‘Gilmanton’s Own’ hopes to offer local goods in one spot

GILMANTON — Last year, a dinner was held to showcase the variety of agricultural products produced in Gilmanton, and to serve them to the people who live nearby. All 60 tickets sold quickly, with diners asking when the next event would be held.

"We definitely were encouraged by the response," said Sarah Baldwin-Welcome. Meeting with the event participants afterward, it was clear that there was a desire to do more than an occasional farm-to-table dinner. Those discussions led to the creation of the nonprofit Gilmanton's Own, which will be hosting its first informational and fund raising event on Saturday. A meeting, featuring beverages, appetizers and discussion of plans and goals for the organization, will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. on March 4, at the Wagner Barn at 63 French Road in Lower Gilmanton. The $20 entry fee will further Gilmanton's Own's mission, to provide a site where the artisans and farmers, often working at the far end of this small town's long dirt roads, can market their products at a place convenient to consumers.

Though March might seem like a quiet time on the Gilmanton landscape, there's much work to be done. At Still Seeking Farm, Keith and Michelle Descoteaux are boiling sap for maple syrup. Their neighbors, Alicia and Ryan Smith, started producing their own meat five years ago, with one pig. They now have 34 pigs and 12 cows, which require feeding and tending to regardless of the season.

Baldwin-Welcome counts 37 farmers in Gilmanton – hay farmers, vegetable growers, meat producers and maple sugaring operations. And there's a list of artisans just about as long. Nearly all of these do their work at their own property, and, as Keith Descoteaux noted, a shopper looking to buy meat, vegetables and bread in Gilmanton would drive so many miles from one to the other that he might as well do his shopping in Concord.

But what if all of those products were available at one place, in a single building on one of the town's major thoroughfares? Then, it would be not only fresher, higher-quality and locally-sourced, but also more convenient.

Baldwin-Welcome said the store would be a cooperative farm stand, open year-round and open to farmers and artisans from Gilmanton. Interest in the idea is strong among the people who would stock such a farm stand.

"It's getting all the farmers together, working as one collective, really, getting products out to other folks," said Thomie Dombrowski, of Fernwood Farms.

Descoteaux thinks more people would be drawn to fresh, local products if it were more convenient for them to find them.

"If we don't bring it to a local place, most people are not willing to drive to the farms," he said. Descoteaux plans to add two more greenhouses and hire two more people to provide enough food to serve the demand he anticipates will result from Gilmanton's Own.

At Hammer Down Farm, Alicia Smith sees the effort as, "Farmers helping farmers... Most people don't know of all the farms in Gilmanton. Hopefully, we can start helping each other out." Her husband, Ryan, added, "It's awesome to see the community come together on the same page."

Baldwin-Welcome, the organization's president, said she's hoping to see on Saturday how broad the support is for the concept.

"We're excited about it. We need to see if the community is supporting it, if the farmers are supporting it... We really feel that it is a need in this time."

Those planning to attend are asked to RSVP to gilmantonsown@gmail.com.

03 01 Gilmantons Own Pigs

Hammer Down Farm, operated by Alicia Smith and her husband Ryan, raises pigs and cows, and has been in commercial operation for three years. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

03 01 Gilmantons Own Sap

Keith Descoteaux, of Still Seeking Farm, grows what he calls "nutrient-dense" berries and vegetables in the warm months, and is busy boiling maple sap this time of year. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

DWI rollover

03-02 rollover into ice

A Sanborton woman is facing drunk driving charges after rolling her car into Lake Winnisquam last Friday. Nancy A. Labranche, 55, of 212 Lower Bay Road was arrested after the Sanbornton Fire Department was called to a the area of 112 Lower Bay Road for a report of a car on its roof on the ice. There was thick fog in the area at the time of the incident. Labranche was checked and no injuries were apparent, according to Sanbornton police. There was a passenger in the car at the time, but he had left the scene before emergency workers arrived. Labranch will face a charge of driving while intoxicated when she appears at 6th Circuit, District Division, Franklin Court on March 13. She was released on $1,500 personal recognizance bail. (Courtesy Sanbornton Police Department)

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