By Michael Kitch
THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — A subcommittee of the Belknap County Convention this week recommended withholding funding in the 2016 budget from the Belknap Economic Development Council and Genesis Behavioral Health and significantly reducing appropriations for the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Service, Belknap County Conservation District, Community Action Program Belknap-Merrimack Counties and Greater Lakes Region Child Advocacy Center.
The five-member panel, consisting of representatives Ray Howard (R-Alton), George Hurt (R-Gilford), Robert Fisher (R-Laconia), Robert Luther (R-Laconia) and Dennis Fields (R-Sanbornton), made its recommendations after a review of funding for so-called "outside agencies."
Officials of several of the agencies yesterday began urging their constituencies to ask members of the county delegation to maintain their funding at the level recommended by the county commission.
In 2015, the county appropriated $75,000 to Belknap Economic Development Council and $34,200 to Genesis Behavioral Health and the Belknap County Commission recommended continuing to fund both at the same amount in 2016.
Justin Slattery, executive director of the Belknap Economic Council, said that "we believe the council has provided quality services in an efficient manner by building economic opportunities and development for our and businesses. This is one step in the county budget process," he continued, "and we look forward to participating moving forward."
In a memorandum to board members, Maggie Pritchard, executive director of Genesis Behavioral Health, said that the funding supports adult outpatient services, in particular those seeking to stay at home rather than enter a nursing home, to avoid incarceration or to remain employed. She said that she was "taken aback" by the committee's action, which she said was based on "misrepresentations" of the agency's financial circumstances.
Lisa Morin, program coordinator of the Belknap County Conservation District, said that the recommended reduction would more than halve the agency's budget, leaving only enough funding for one part-time position. Without the necessary funding services to landowners, businesses and municipalities would be entirely curtailed or severely limited, she said.
The subcommittee also recommended trimming $35,000 from the $152,217 appropriation for the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Service, $43,000 from the $92,400 appropriation for Belknap County Conservation District, $35,000 from the $89,905 appropriation for the Community Action Program Belknap-Merrimack Counties and $550 from the $11,000 approppriation for the Greater Lakes Region Child Advocacy Center, all of which were proposed by the Belknap County Commission.
Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), chairman of the Belknap County Delegation, said "I anticipated something like this." He said that although the delegation will hold a work session on the budget on Monday, Feb. 1, he did not expect much time would be devoted to what he called "the controversial issues." However, he stressed that the agencies and public would have an opportunity to question the recommendations of the subcommittees at a public hearing on the 2016 county budget to be held on Tuesday, Feb. 16, beginning at 7 p.m.
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