By ROGER AMSDEN, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Belknap County commissioners are planning to ask for a supplemental appropriation from the Belknap County Delegation.
But the amount of money they will be asking for has yet to be decided.
When they met Thursday afternoon, the commissioners were presented with requests from Corrections Superintendent Keith Gray for $147,315 in additional funds and from the Belknap County Sheriff's Department for an additional $92,998.
After the delegation cut funds from Gray's budget for four corrections officers on March 10, Gray said he could not open the corrections center and operate it safely without adequate staffing. He said the supplemental appropriation of $147,315 to his department's $3,814,227 budget would enable him to hire the four corrections officers on July 1.
Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) suggested waiting until Oct. 1 to hire the new officers as a compromise to gain support from the delegation. He said that would reduce the amount Gray needs to $74,000.
Commissioner Hunter Taylor, (R-Alton) urged sticking with the department's original request, maintaining that the delegation acted without full knowledge of the consequences of its budget cut and it was the delegation's job to fix it. "They own the problem. We don't," said Taylor.
Taylor said he would like to see some commitment from the delegation to fully staffing the 18,000-square-foot corrections center going forward into next year, pointing out that it would be difficult to hire people this year and then lay them off next year.
Commissioner Glen Waring (R-Gilmanton) said he wants to see a timeline for opening the center and hiring and training new personnel before committing to a dollar amount on the supplemental money. His position eventually was adopted and he will work with Gray to develop the timeline which will determine how much in additional funds will be requested for the corrections department.
Waring said it was important that the commissioners have a well-thought-out plan with documentation that will support the supplemental appropriation request.
Taylor said he supports that approach and said there are people on the delegation “who were ambushed by the Abear budget” which cut the four corrections officers and would support a supplemental budget request which restored them.
He was referring to the $27,487,463 Belknap County budget which was proposed by Rep. Marc Abear (R-Meredith), which cut the proposed budget by $545,804, and was approved by a 9-6 vote of the delegation on March 10.
“We are advancing a common sense program and will see reason prevail over ideology,” said Taylor.
Gray's letter to the commissioners says that a staffing analysis using U.S. Justice Department guidelines shows that a security staff of 34 would be required for maximum coverage for all shifts. The department currently has 23 security staff and Gray said adding four employees and the use of part-time officers would permit safe operation of the center.
Gray said that there would be major repercussions if the supplemental budget request is not approved. Without the new officers, he said parts of the current jail would need to remain in use and that female prisoners would have to be transferred to another county, which would cost $34,500 a month.
DeVoy said his main goal is to see the community corrections center open as planned.
“We need to do the right thing and get this in place,” he said, explaining why he offered a $74,000 compromise to Gray's $147,315 request.
Lt. David Perkins, chief deputy of the Belknap County Sheriff's Department, said the department's budget was cut by $161,381 with the major cut being the loss of a full-time deputy. The department is asking for $92,998 to supplement its $2,037,092 budget so that it will be able to continue to provide services which it is mandated by state law to perform.
Commissioner Taylor has been holding discussions with local officials in nine Lakes Region communities which utilize the Sheriff's Department dispatch services to see if they will provide additional funds that will enable the department to make up for the shortfall. Delegation members have pointed out that dispatching is not one of the department's mandated services.