By ROGER AMSDEN, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) says the county won't be able to open its 18,000 square foot Community Corrections Center come September unless the Belknap County Delegation reverses itself and provides an additional $21,324 in funding for two part-time corrections officers.
During a marathon session last week which lasted for four-and-half hours, the delegation agreed to a motion by Rep. Time Lang (R-Sanbornton) to cut two full-time corrections officers from the proposed $3,964,613 Corrections Department budget. Before it voted on the $3,911,269 budget proposed by Lang, Rep, David Huot (D-Laconia) moved to amend Lang's motion by adding $21,324 for two part-time corrections officers. The amendment failed and Lang's original motion for a $53,334 cut passed.
Taylor said that Corrections Superintendent Keith Gray won't have sufficient manpower for staffing the center unless he can hire the part-time officers and points out that the county delegation knew when it unanimously approved an $8 million bond in November of 2015 for the corrections center that additional staffing costs were estimated at $650,183 annually.
He said that the 2017 budget proposed by commissioners included funds for four new corrections officers a well as instructional personnel and was far less than had originally been projected.
"It should be noted that staffing at the Belknap County Jail has problematic for a number of years. All three of the consultants that have addressed the needs of the Belknap County Department of Corrections since 2012 have agreed that the Department is seriously understaffed. This shortcoming is reflected in the inmate-to-staff ratios for county jails in New Hampshire. In 2015, the Belknap County ratio was 3.9 inmates to each staff member. The ratios for the other counties with populations of less than 100,000 were: Carroll 1.7 to 1, Cheshire 2.4 to 1, Coos 1.8 to 1, Grafton 1.6 to 1 and Sullivan 2 to 1. With a staffing ratio so out of line with the norm, Belknap County could be viewed as putting both inmates and staff at risk, which could lead to significant liability exposure should a serious incident occur which could be linked to inadequate staffing." Taylor wrote in a letter to the editor which was published in Saturday's Laconia Daily Sun.
The County Delegation, which last week cut less than $200,000 from the proposed $28 million county budget, will resume deliberations on the budget when it meets at 6 p.m. tonight at the Belknap County complex. A large turnout is expected as the delegation will be taking up requests from outside agencies, many of which have been cut in recent years and whose representatives have been in attendance at all of the delegation's budget sessions.
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