By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Nine towns are being asked to fill the gap in the Belknap County Sheriff's Department's budget to pay for emergency dispatch services. Belknap County Commissioners are looking to plug the $127,000 hole left by the county's budget cuts.
Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) said the department currently provides coverage for nine of the 11 communities in Belknap County. Both Laconia and Gilford have their own 24/7 dispatch operations and do not rely on the county.
Full 24/7 coverage is provided by the Sheriff's Department for six towns – New Hampton, Center Harbor, Barnstead, Alton, Gilmanton and Sanbornton – and evening coverage is provided for Tilton, Meredith and Belmont.
Taylor said that if each of the six towns which get 24/7 coverage contribute $20,000 and those which receive partial coverage pay $6,000, the department would have sufficient funds to continue to provide other services which it is mandated to provide.
The discussions will begin Monday night in Alton when Taylor and Belknap County Sheriff Mike Moyer meet with selectmen there.
“This isn't something we want to do. The commission is committed to regionalization of services and realizes this would be a step back from that idea. We're still hoping to get funding restored in a supplemental budget,” said Taylor.
He said the County Delegation cut a full-time deputy and full-time dispatcher from the sheriff's budget, as well as overtime, and that Moyer has told the commission that there is no way that he will be able to keep from exceeding the budget which was approved.
It was suggested by members of the delegation that the sheriff cut services such as dispatch, the SWAT team and running radar for traffic control.
“Maybe the sheriff should drop some of these extra activities to save money,” wrote Delegation Vice Chairman Ray Howard (R-Alton) in a letter to the editor published in the March 28 Laconia Daily Sun.
Taylor said completely eliminating dispatch services would save the county over $500,000 a year but cause major problems for communities which rely on the services, particularly smaller towns.
Belmont selectmen have not yet been approached by the commission but have expressed “significant concerns regarding the County budget battle being waged in the press” in a letter sent to Delegation Chairman Herb Vadney (R-Meredith).
“We have heard that as a result the County may have to consider closing the dispatch center in order for the Sheriff to meet his constitutional duties. Such a proposal would seriously impact the town of Belmont and its residents/taxpayers. It would require that a minimum of four full-time dispatchers be hired with an impact of $212,780,” the letter reads.
It also criticizes the delegation for cuts made to the Corrections Department staffing budget.
“It is difficult to believe that you would have voted to construct a facility without realizing the budgetary needs it would require and that you would expect other agencies in the county to suffer for your lack of forethought.”
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