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.
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