LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners yesterday looked at spreadsheets showing the impact of a $8 million borrwoing for a community correction center on county debt and are poised to recommend to the Belknap County Convention that interest only payments for the first two years is the best way to proceed.
The convention will hold a public hearing on the proposed bond issue to build an 18,000-square-foot, 64-bed "community corrections center" adjacent to the existing county jail on Tuesday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. at the Belknap County complex. The convention will meet on November 2 at 6 p.m. to vote on the bond issue, which will require a two-thirds majority from the 18-member convention.
Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said that from preliminary discussions with convention Chairman Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) it appears the lawmaker would like to see how the two-years of interest only payments compare to payments on a conventional (principal and interest) debt retirement schedule.
DeVoy said that the commissioners should take into account how the convention would like to see the debt repayment scheduled as it could possibly play a key role in determining whether or not the bond issues attains the two-thirds majority it needs for passage.
The county's existing debt requires payments of $630,988 this year, $602,568 in 2016, $579,005 in 2017 and $254,800 in 2018. The county currently has $2,067,361 in debt and the new bond would add $8 million in debt principal and between $3,009,789 and $4,309,754 in interest payments depending on which repayment schedule is chosen.
If a conventional 20-year bond issue is passed, the county's debt payments would rise to $1,142,168 in 2016, $1,124,557 in 2017 and $800,836 in 2018 before dropping to $541,208 in 2019 and remaining at that level of the remainder of the new bond issue. Total cost over the life of the bond would be $12,939,789. A conventional bond for 25 years would see payments of $1,082,368 in 2016, $1,056,689 in 2017 and $730,202 in 2018. It would them drop to $472,954 in 2019 and remain at that level for the next 21 years, resulting in a total cost of $13,949,329.
With interest only payments for two years, a 25-year bond would see payments of $725,099 in 2016, $824,066 in 2017, $728,539 in 2018 and drop to $470,726 in 2019 and remain close to that level for the rest of the bond. Total payments would be $14,239,754.
A 20-year bond with interest only payments for two years would see payments of $716,901 in the 2016, $807,672 in 2017 and $796,655 in 2018. In 2019 payments would drop to $53,729 and remain around that level for the rest of the bond. Total payments would amount to $13,205,162 over the 20-year period.
Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) said that he liked the two-year interest only approach, as did Commissioner Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton).
DeVoy noted that there was some suggestion that the spike in debt payments could be covered by using the county's unreserved fund balance, which he said would require the consent of lawmakers.
''It's either a tax increase or using the fund balance,'' he said, adding that the commissioners would have to negotiate with the convention on how to handle the principal and interest payments.
Commissioners have endorsed a plan developed by SMP Architecture of Concord, which calls for spending $7,171,928 for a community corrections center as well as $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.
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.
Kevin Warwick of Alternative Solutions Associates, Inc., a consulting firm hired by the county to develop programs for a community corrections center, has noted that Belknap County currently has the lowest staffing of any county jail in the state with only 30 staff members and a capacity of 93 inmates. Carroll County has 36 staffers with an inmate capacity of 60 while Grafton County has 54 staffers and a capacity of 115 inmates. Sullivan County, which served as a model for the plan developed for Belknap County, has a 56 staffers and a capacity of 95 inmates.
He and Ross Cunningham, who was corrections superintendent in Sullivan County when its community corrections facility was built, both say that doing nothing is not an option for Belknap County as the county faces the possibility of lawsuits unless its facility meets federal standards for correction facilities, which it does not.