CONCORD — The Senate Finance Committee has unanimously endorsed an amendment to the 2016-2017 state budget that would spare four district offices of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), including the office in Laconia, from closure.
The companion bill to the budget, House Bill 2, adopted by both the House and Senate, directs the commissioner of DHHS to consolidate district offices to reduce general fund appropriations to the department by $1 million in each year of the biennium. In an e-mail sent to district office staff a week ago, Nick Toumpas, the commissioner of DHHS, confirmed that along with Laconia offices in Claremont, Conway and Rochester have also been identified for closure. He noted that the savings would be achieved by "consolidation of district offices and associated reduction in lease expenses."
Senator Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith), who chairs the committee, said that she suggested the amendment to strip the provision from HB-2 when the committee met on Thursday. She said that she and other members of the committee, heard concerns from their constituents about the prospective closures. Forrester, who will tour the Laconia District Office with Regional Manager Lisa Boucher on Monday, said that "I hope to gain a fuller understanding of their work so that the Senate can effectively advocate for the restoration of funding for these offices."
Senator Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia) said that he and Senator Lou D'Allesandro (D-Manchester), his fellow Democrat on the Finance Committee, also intended to offer a similar amendment, along with several others. He said that the proposal to close the four district offices, which was supported by the Republican majorities in both the Senate and House, was among a number of issues that prompted the ten Democrats in the Senate to vote against the budget. The budget carried the Senate with the unanimous support of all 14 Republican members. Hosmer acknowledged that the success of the amendment may depend on finding reductions of $1 million elsewhere in the budget, but remarked "there are lots of ways of doing that."
The amendment will be referred to the Committee of Conference, consisting of members of the Senate and House, which will meet next week to reconcile the differences between the two versions of the budget adopted by the two chambers. The Senate conferees are Morse Forrester, Gerry Little (R-Weare) and D'Allesandro. Hosmer and John Reagan (R-Deerfield) are alternates.
There are 62 employees working in the Laconia District office with 11,938 open cases. The office serves the city of Laconia and 25 towns (Alexandria, Alton, Ashland, Barnstead, Belmont, Bridgewater, Bristol, Campton, Center Harbor, Dorechester, Ellsworth, Gilford, Gilmanton, Hebron, Holderness, Meredith, New Hampton, Plymouth, Rumney, Sanbornton, Thorton, Tilton, Waterville Valley and Wentworth) .
Laconia, Belmont and Gilford are in Senate District 7, represented by Hosmer while 18 of the 22 towns in the catchment area of the Laconia District office are in Senate District 2, represented by Forrester. Laconia, Belmont and Gilford are in Senate District 7, represented by Hosmer while 18 of the 22 towns in the catchment area of the Laconia District office are in Senate District 2, represented by Forrester.
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