By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Belknap County Convention Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) says that the pushback against budget cuts to outside agencies which was strongly expressed at Monday night's public hearing on the convention's working budget appears to have had an impact on new members of the delegation who were initially inclined to go along with the cuts.
"Some of them told me they didn't realize how much work they (the outside agencies) do that benefits the county," said Tilton, who said that his view has been modified over the years to he point that he now sees the agencies as partners with the county.
"I think that the proposed cuts send the message that we don't think they're doing a good job," said Tilton, who said that he was disappointed that the convention, which had only 11 of its 17 members present Monday night, only took action on one of the proposed cuts when it restored the UNH Cooperative Extension Service funding to the $152,217 sought by the Belknap County Commissioners in their original budget request.
Former Belknap County Convention Chairman Alida Millham said at Monday night's hearing that she thinks the agencies should be fully funded and viewed as community partners with the county in providing services which benefit the county and help hold taxes down and bring revenue into the county.
Another former county legislator, Fran Wendelboe of New Hampton, said that the proposed cut to the UNH Cooperative Extension Service, is "penny wise and pound foolish," and cited her experience of working for 10 years with the Belknap County 4-H Fair and the cooperation the fair received from the county through inmate labor from the Belknap County House of Corrections.
Also urging full funding for the Extension Service was Sandra McGonagle of Gilford, a former elementary school superintendent who served three terms as a selectman, who said that a bare bones budget would affect staffing and programs provided to the county.
Ken Kettenring of New Hampton, a former director of the state of New Hampshire's Wetlands Bureau, said the Belknap County Conservation District provides needed technical services to the county through volunteer professionals and urged fully funding the district's $92,4000 request. Everett McLaughlin of the Gilford Conservation Commission said the assistance provided the town in the Gilford Brook and Jewett Brook studies have been invaluable.
John Moulton of Meredith, owner of Moulton Farm, who has been at the last three county convention meetings at which the budget cuts have been discussed, said he is a user of the services provided by both the Extension Service and the Conservation District and said the kind of information and services they provide cannot be obtained elsewhere, a sentiment echoed by Aaron Lichtenberg of Alton, who operates the Winnipesaukee Woods Farm.
Randy Eifert of Meredith, chairman of the board of directors of the Belknap Economic Development Council, whose $75,000 request had been zeroed out by a subcommittee and later increased by the full convention to $60,000, said that some of the arguments used to justify the cut weren't accurate.
"We're not a high-risk lender. We've provided gap funding to businesses over the last 24 years and are the only proactive economic development lender in the county," said Eifert, who said that the original goal of the founders of the organization to make it self-sustaining had been modified many years ago at the suggestion of former state Sen. Carl Johnson (R-Meredith) in light of the value being received by the county for the services provided by the organization.
He said that the organization has made over 80 loans, 22 of which are still active, and helped bring over a thousand jobs and millions in private investment to the county and is currently working on a workforce development program with local businesses and industries.
He was supported by state Sen. Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith), who said that the BEDC has a good track record of major accomplishments.
Deborah Pendergast, former deputy chief of the Laconia Fire Department and currently director of training and emergency medical services with the New Hampshire Department of Safety, spoke on behalf of Genesis Behavioral Health, whose $34,200 funding request had been zeroed out and then restored to $30,000. She said that the agency provides badly needed mental health services to people like a 40-year-old couple whose 19-year-old daughter is addicted to heroin.
She said that nothing brings home the need for its services more than the actual involvement brought about by real life situations which so many people in the county experience.
The county convention will discuss the outside agency budgets when it meets again Tuesday, March 1, at 6 p.m., at the Belknap County complex.
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