LACONIA — The Belknap County commissioners unanimously endorsed a proposed $8.5 million plan for an 18,000-square-foot, 64-bed community corrections center and upgrades to the current Belknap County House of Corrections when they met Wednesday morning at the Belknap County Complex.
The endorsement came after a presentation by the county's Jail Planning Committee at which Project Manager Anthony Mento of SMP Architecture said that a recalculation of the estimated costs showed a new cost estimate closer to $8.3 million.
County Commissioners, faced with the need for $370,000 to meet the architectural and engineering costs needed to complete the planning process, and aware that only $308,000 remains in the jail planning fund in the Department of Corrections budget, have decided to seek a meeting with the Belknap County Convention before finalizing any contracts.
The commissioners did agree to waive the county's competitive bidding process in order to hire Northpoint Engineering of Pembroke for three projects, a wetlands delineation survey and analysis of site specific soils for $15,500; conduction geotechnical borings to evaluate subsurface conditions for $9,600 and $3,300 for a conceptual design in conjunction with SMP Architecture.
The decision to to meet with the convention before proceeding further with designs came after Commissioner Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) said that he had concerns over comments made by members of the delegation with regard to the staffing costs for the new facility and their impact on future county budgets.
''We need to bring them in and provide some education about what we're doing before we go forward. It will take two-thirds of the delegation to approve a bond issue,'' he pointed out.
County commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton), who also chairs the Jail Planning Committee, said that the goal of the commissioners is to work together as a team to build support for the plan.
Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) said that he would like to see the same presentation made by the Jail Planning Committee which opened yesterday's meeting given to the convention.
DeVoy said that the commissioners would tell the convention with regard to the jail planning funds that ''we want your okay to spend this money, then go through the bonding process.''
The proposed plan calls for spending $7,171,928 for an 18,000-square-foot, 64-bed community corrections facility and $491,000 for upgrades to the existing county jail, which currently has 87 beds. County corrections Interim Superintendent Keith Gray said that parts of the current jail which are too difficult to renovate would no longer be used, leaving the current facility with a capacity of 60 inmates.
The proposed cost of the community corrections facility includes a $700,000 contingency fund.
Additional items were budgeted at $668,300.
Also included in the overall operating plan are security and program costs, which are estimated at $650,000 for hiring six additional Department of Corrections staffers and contracting with private firms to provide programs aimed at helping offenders deal with drug, alcohol and mental health problems before they are released into the community.
DeVoy has previously suggested that some of the costs of paying for the contracted services could be met by increasing the amount of money the county currently receives from the county-owned Gunstock Mountain Recreation Area. Currently Gunstock pays $175,000 a year to the county and the memorandum of understanding with the county which sets that rate is due for renewal later this year.
DeVoy also suggested that another source of funds could be the money realized through the work release program. The new facility would have 34 beds, 24 for men and 10 for women, who are on work release and the county receives one-third of whatever money they earn. He estimated that of all those on work release made $200 a week the county would receive over $100,000 a year which could be used to cover the costs for contractors.
Jacqui Abikoff of Horizons Counseling Center, a member of the Jail Planning Committee, said that the county will also realize savings through the work release program because it will not be liable for health care costs for those in the program, who will be covered either by private insurance or Medicaid.
Kevin Warwick of Alternative Solutions Associates, Inc., a consulting firm hired by the county to develop programs for a community corrections center helped develop a community corrections facility, said that the program has worked well for Sullivan County, where recidivism has been reduced from 65 percent to 18 percent.
He and Ross Cunningham, who was corrections superintendent in Sullivan County when its community corrections facility was built, both said that doing nothing is not an option for Belknap County as the county faces the possibility of lawsuits unless its facility meets federal standards, which it does not.
Belknap County Commissioners have unanimously endorsed a proposed $8.5 million plan for a community corrections facility and upgrades to the current Belknap County House of Corrections. Commissioners Richard Burchell of Gilmanton, Dave DeVoy of Sanbornton and Hunter Taylor of Alton are shown with members of the Jail Planning Committee, standing: Nicole Mills, Tamara McGonagle, Anthony Mento, project manager from SMP Architecture; Ross Cunnigham of Alternative Solutions Inc., Jacqui Abikoff of Horizons Counseling Center; Keith Gray, Interim Superintendent of the Belknap County Corrections Department; Kevin Warwick of Alternative Solutions Inc., Deb Shackett, Belknap County Administrator; Dustin Muzzey, Belknap County facilities manager; Brian Loanes, director of the Restorative Justice Program, and Craig Wiggin, Belknap County Sheriff. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)