Burchell fears cost of added staffing will drive 'community corrections' jail model beyond county's tolerance for taxes

LACONIA — Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton), who was apparently ousted as commission chairman by his colleagues Monday morning, gave a one-man presentation following the commission's meeting on progress on a plan being developed for a so-called community corrections center for the county.
''This is a discussion we should be having in Belknap County,'' said Burchell, who expressed skepticism that there was an appetite in the county for spending the amount of money he thinks it will take to build and staff an inmate rehabilitation and education center.
Burchell said that there was a meeting held Friday at the county jail which he attended along with Corrections Superintendent Dan Ward and Kevin Warwick and Ross Cunningham of Alternative Solutions Associates, Inc., the firm the county hired for $40,000 to develop a program for a community corrections facility.
He said that the study so far is focused on an approximately 30,000-square-foot facility with 64 beds which would cost between $7-$8 million and would require between seven and 10 new staff members.
Burchell suggested it would be less expensive for the county in the long run to build a $14-million jail along traditional lines because there would be a minimal staffing increase which would hold down future staffing costs compared to what it would cost for a community corrections facility.
The roughly outlined community corrections facility plan for the county would see 30 treatment beds, 20 for men and 10 for women, and 34 work release beds, 24 for men and 10 for women. The new facility, which would be built next to the current jail and possibly connected to it, would be of heavy commercial grade construction, several steps below the type of construction needed for a secure jail facility.
It would provide residential minimum security treatment as well as group space for programs.
Staffing requirements would be five correctional staff and a supervisor while program staff would entail three clinicians, two case managers, a full-time administrative assistant and half-time clerical position.
Burchell said that the Sullivan County Community Corrections Center, which county commissioners have eyed as a model for a Belknap County program, requires up to 300 hours of programming per inmate, which requires a large investment in staff.
He said that Belknap County Commissioners will need to take a close look at the associated costs, noting that if the staffing increase isn't funded a facility built to the community corrections standard would be ''a soft building which will get kicked to pieces'' by inmates.
Other key considerations under study include a control room replacement for the current facility with a complete security system for a cost of $350,000, as well as upgrade to the HVAC system for the existing jail with an eye to also having it handle the community corrections facility as well.
The initial recommendations by the consulting firm will be made to commissioners at a March 24 meeting with consultants providing recommendations for adjustments to the Ricci Greene plan square footage, which was 94,000-square-feet, in April. It is envisioned that the county would hire an architect in May to design a community corrections facility and review projected renovation costs to the current facility.

Chaos at the county: Burchell apparently removed as chair of Belknap Commission

LACONIA — Belknap County Commission Chairman Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) was ousted as chairman by fellow commissioners Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) and Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) Monday morning but he refused to acknowledge their action, maintaining that that they had no statutory authority to remove him. Burchell continued to wield the gavel at the short, chaotic commissioners' meeting at the Belknap County complex, repeatedly banging it on the table and yelling after every motion made by the other commissioners that they were out of order.
The bizarre meeting — or simultaneous meetings — degenerated into a shouting match as DeVoy and Taylor raised their voices in order to make themselves heard over Burchell's "out of order" rulings, which flew thick and fast. When the other commissioners signaled their decision to continue to press the issue of removing Burchell as chairman, he asked Belknap County Deputy Sheriff Dave Perkins to empty the room, but Perkins declined, saying there was no basis to do so.
Talking over Burchell, the two commissioners then elected DeVoy as chairman, Taylor as vice chairman and, Burchell as clerk, prompting him to say, ''you're both out of order. You have no authority to elect me as clerk.''
Burchell would not accept motions even when the other commissioners appealed his "out of order" rulings, maintaining that the "simplified" Roberts Rules of Order, which the commission adopted at its first meeting of the year, didn't allow that procedure. He cited an e-mail from Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan which Burchell claimed said there was no procedure for removing him as chairman of the commission. Taylor cited another opinion from Scanlan which said that all decisions by the commission are made only by majority vote.
Later in the day Burchell filed a motion in Belknap County Superior Court seeking ex parte relief from the action of the other two commissioners, claiming that there is no statutory basis for his removal as chairman, which he maintains will be ''an invitation to chaos".
A hearing on the motion is scheduled for March 11 at 1:30 p.m.
He said following the meeting that he intends to continue as chairman ''until a court says I'm not".
At one point during the Monday morning meeting, when Burchell ruled Taylor out of order, the mild-mannered commissioner appealed to the audience, saying, ''you can see exactly why we need to reorganize.'' After being told later on by Burchell that he was out of order again, Taylor said to Burchell ''you're out of your mind".'
After it became obvious that Burchell would not yield the gavel, the other commissioners voted, again over Burchell's insistence that they were "out of order",  to end the meeting without taking action on any other agenda items. Burchell said that they should ''remove themselves from the room'' and Taylor said to Burchell ''you'd do us all a favor if you resign (from the commission)".
DeVoy said after the meeting that ''this was a sad day for Belknap County. We didn't elect a king, we elected a chairman. And we've got to right the ship and get Belknap County moving again.''
DeVoy said that it has become obvious that Burchell is someone who can't handle the working relationships needed to lead the commission and that when the next meeting of the commissioners is held he intends to pick up the gavel and preside as the new chairman.
Taylor said after the meeting that he can't understand why Burchell still wants to hold on to the chairmanship. ''I hope he takes some time and does some reflection. We need to put the county first and he's not being a part of a team. Instead of working with us he went off and did his own budget. It's pretty obvious to everyone other than himself that he's not the right person to lead the county commission.''
After the commissioners left, Burchell sat alone at the front of the room and briefed the media on a visit made to the Belknap County Jail last Friday by consultants Kevin Warwick and Ross Cunningham of Alternative Solutions Associates, who are designing a program for a proposed Belknap County Community Corrections Center.
He said that preliminary indications are that it would actually be less expensive for the county in the long run if it built a larger jail rather than a community corrections center because the cost of adding 7-10 additional staff for the corrections center would be higher over time than the additional construction costs of a jail expansion, which wouldn't require a major increase in staffing.

Burchell began feuding with his two colleagues — all new to the commission and all Republicans — in recent weeks, when they would not sign on to his plan for eliminating jobs in order to meet a target for a reduction in the proposed 2015 county budget. The chairman boycotted a day-long budget workshop the commissioners held on February 13 because he believed they were going the call for an increase in expected county nursing home revenue in order to reach a similar numerical goal.

Mitchell backs off plan to build large self-storage compound at Weirs

LACONIA — On the eve of a so-called design review before the Planning Board, Al Mitchell, principal of the A.E. Mitchell Corporation of Belmont, said last night that he will withdraw his proposal to build a large self-storage facility at Weirs Beach in light of the opposition the project has aroused among business owners and residents of the summer resort community.

Acknowledging "it's the use", Mitchell said he is abandoning his plans "for the people who don't want to it there. I don't want to be the one to do that to the Weirs. I don't want it to be my legacy."
Mitchell planned to develop the 6.8-acre lot on the north side of Endicott Street North (Rte. 3 North) across the highway from the Meredith Bridge condominium community and next door to the Cumberland Farms convenience store. The land, which was cleared several years ago, backs up to the New.Hampshire Veteran's Association compound that fronts on Lakeside Ave.

As proposed, the facility would consist of 296 storage units divided among 17 buildings. It would include a two-story office building, constructed to a colonial design, facing Route 3. The south, east and west borders of the site would be ringed by trees.

The use is permitted in the commercial resort zone where the property lies. However, Mitchell expected that with the abandonment of his plan, the zoning ordinance will be amended to prohibit storage facilities in that zoning district.

Mitchell, who acquired the lot six years ago, said "I tried to do all kinds of things with the property. Is a storage facility the highest and best use?" he asked. "Of course, not. But, there is a need for storage space and it's the only thing I could do to get income from the property 12 months of the year." He doubted that there would be any significant investment in hotels, restaurants or attractions at the Weirs as long as property owners remain satisfied with the returns from a short season highlighted by Motorcycle Week. He noted that since the storage facility would consist of metal buildings on concrete slabs with no underground infrastructure, it could be dismantled in two weeks in order to redevelop the property if an opportunity arose.
"It's not something they want to see at the Weirs," Mitchell continued, "and more are against it than for it." He explained that Jon Rokeh of Rokeh Consulting of Chichester, who engineered the project, forwarded him some of the correspondence received by the Planning Department voicing objections to his plan. "I want to be a good neighbor," he said.

Mitchell, who grew up in Laconia, said that to put put the property to a higher use it would have to be combined with abutting properties. "In order to develop the property you have to come from Lakeside Avenue, you have to start at the lake and work up the hill, not start on the hill and work down." He estimated the cost of acquiring and developing the properties at between $20 million and $25 million. Moreover, there is no assurance that the Veteran's Compound could be redeveloped. "If anyone deserves to be there, Mitchell remarked, it's the veterans. They've earned the right."
Mitchell said that although the property has been used as a parking lot during Motorcycle Week in the past, this year it will be closed to the public.