LACONIA — The new Belknap County Community Corrections Center has a certificate of occupancy but is not yet holding any inmates.
That's because of a disagreement between Belknap County Commissioners and the Belknap County Delegation over the hiring of four new corrections officers.
Belknap County Corrections Superintendent Keith Gray says that the center can't be operated safely without the four new officers. He has the support of the three commissioners, who last week renewed their request for a $136,500 supplemental appropriation to pay for the officers.
The delegation, which rejected that request on May 22 when a motion to approve a $229,500 supplemental appropriation, which also included $93,000 for the Sheriffs Department, was rejected on a 7-7 tie vote, has not yet scheduled a meeting to reconsider its vote.
Delegation Chairman Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) said that he will look at holding a meeting by Aug. 10 on the transfer request but is not sure that the votes are there to overturn it.
Several members of the delegation have said that there's enough money in the $27.487 million county budget for the commissioners to find the money to hire the officers without a supplemental appropriation. But commissioners say there isn't, as is shown by the request for another supplemental appropriation of $135,000 for the Health and Human Services budget that was presented to the delegation last week.
Plans called for the $8 million, 72-bed, 18,100-square-foot Community Corrections Center to open in September with the hiring of the new officers to start on July 1. But the opening is contingent on work being completed to the existing jail, which isn't taking place because the work requires that some inmates be transferred to the new corrections center to open up areas of the old jail to construction workers.
Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said that the commission is up against the wall when it comes to being able to open the center on time. He has previously said that the drop dead date for being able to start construction activity in the old jail is Aug. 15.
“We only have about two weeks in order to get this resolved,” said DeVoy.
He said that in the absence of action from the delegation the commissioners will be faced with two options when they meet Thursday afternoon at 5:15 p.m., either approving the hiring of the four officers or approving opening the corrections center without the officers and transferring a substantial number of inmates to other county jails in the state.
Two weeks ago Gray presented an analysis of jail construction alternatives which would allow construction to proceed to its final phase in which parts of the existing jail would be renovated and some parts discontinued.
He said that the county would have three options, hiring four new corrections officers at a yearly cost of $296,550, moving all sentenced inmates to another facility at an annual cost of $1,076,400 or moving all pre-trial defendants to other facilities at an annual cost of $972,900.
The last option would increase the burden of transporting prisoners on the Belknap County Sheriff's Department, which would see its travel time per month increase from 23 hours to 276 hours.
Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) said that he would support approving the hiring of the additional four corrections officers as the most reasonable and least costly solution for the county, even without delegation approval.
If the delegation doesn't approve those funds, Taylor says it is clear that prisoners should be transferred out of the county.
“The delegation has a responsibility to properly fund those things which the county has a statutory obligation to provide. And that is very clear when it comes to prison inmates. We either provide for them or ship them to another county and pay for them. I am sure that a court would agree with that decision if we went that route. Frankly, it's a lot cheaper to hire the officers and get on with the project,” said Taylor.
Belknap County Corrections Superintendent Keith Gray holds a certificate of occupancy for the new Belknap County Community Corrections Center, which has been completed but is still not occupied due, commissioner say, to lack of funding for staff. (Roger Amsden/Laconia Daily Sun)
- Written by Roger Amsden
- Category: Local News
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