LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioner Hunter Taylor has announced that he is seeking election to the position he now holds in the upcoming election cycle.
Taylor was appointed by a unanimous vote of the County Convention to fill the position of County Commissioner for District 3 (representing Alton, Center Harbor, Gilford and Meredith) following the resignation of Steve Nedeau in December 2014.
"My original intention was to serve only the remainder of Mr. Nedeau's term," said Taylor. "Having served for the last seventeen months, and having worked closely with Chairman DeVoy, I believe I have been part of a meaningful effort to bring efficient, responsive and transparent governance with fiscal responsibility to our county. Significant things have been accomplished in spite of a very serious split in the Board of Commissioners which at times has been a serious impediment to cooperative efforts. There are matters of far-reaching importance that require serious attention going forward. I believe that I have a lot to offer in experience, judgment and temperament, and I would be honored if the voters of my district gave me the opportunity to serve another two year term."
As to accomplishments which Taylor views most significant, he pointed first to the new community corrections center and renovations to the existing jail, which are both scheduled for completion before the end of 2017.
"This will give us a facility set up for inmate programming aimed at substance abuse recovery and prevention of recidivism," he said. "The plan we are implementing is based on the Sullivan County model, which I was the first to suggest as a starting point for our planning (in my 9/1/14 letter to the Laconia Daily Sun). Under the leadership of Chairman DeVoy, our building committee has designed a facility aimed at the particular needs of our county. The projected cost of the facility is less than $8 million, as opposed to the $42.6 million building which had been advanced by the previous Board of Commissioners (a savings of $34.6 million).
Taylor also pointed to the savings realized in reduced health insurance costs over the last 17 months. He said $135,000 was saved in 2015 by switching health insurance carriers. An additional savings of more than $50,000 has been accomplished by collective bargaining agreements with three of the four county unions. All of these contracts have been finalized by County Convention approval of cost items. Taylor headed the county team that negotiated the three collective bargaining agreements.
Taylor also noted that the budgets for 2015 and 2016 reflect the degree of fiscal responsibility and careful planning that should be expected of a Board of Commissioners.
"In 2015, we inherited a budget submitted by the prior Board of Commissioners that increased the amount to be raised from the taxpayers by 10 percent," he said. "We cut the number to 1.3 percent. Our 2016 proposed budget was level funded, meaning it had a 0 percent increase."
According to Taylor, the major issues facing Belknap County in the foreseeable future include not only substance abuse and related problems, but also the rapidly aging population of the county. In addition to the costs related to the operation of the Belknap County Nursing Home, the county now pays a little over $6 million annually (approximately 25 percent of the total annual expenditures of our county) for senior care to fund the non-federal share of Medicaid benefits for long term care of needy seniors who are Belknap County residents. This financial responsibility has been assigned to the various counties by the New Hampshire legislature. The care that is being paid for by the county can be residential (in any licensed nursing home) or it can be in-home assistance.
With a rapidly aging population, this mandated state requirement presents a tough fiscal challenge. Seniors overwhelmingly prefer to stay in their homes as long as possible, and home care is far less expensive than nursing home care, he said.
"It is crucial to better and more affordably serve the needs of our needy seniors," said Taylor. "We need programs that allow them to live in their homes longer. Such programs would be a win for the seniors and a win for the taxpayers. These programs need to be developed now before we find ourselves in the middle of a crisis.
"While serving as a county commissioner, I have shown my commitment to helping seniors remain in their homes by my total support for meals on wheels, senior transportation and senior companionship," he said. "In my view, these forms of assistance are of great benefit to the seniors and to the taxpayers of the county, who reap long term savings every time a needy senior is able to remain in his or her house longer."
Taylor said his candidacy offers the experience, judgment and temperament for useful discussion, analysis and problem-solving.