By ROGER AMSDEN, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The Belknap County Delegation voted 9-6 Friday night to cut the proposed $28 million county budget by over a half-million dollars and to maintain the amount to be raised from country taxpayers at same level as last year, $12,963,440.
The action came on a motion offered by Rep. Marc Abear (R-Meredith) to cut $545,804 from the budget, reducing it to $27,487,463, some $200,000 lower than had been proposed by Rep. Roy Howard (R-Alton) last week, a move which had been rejected by a 7-6 vote of the delegation.
Abear’s budget cuts $126,736 from the Sheriff’s Department, eliminating overtime, one deputy and one dispatcher, cut $44,562 from the Belknap County Nursing Home for an activities position.
It also cut $40,000 from the dietary department at the Belknap County House of Corrections and incorporated a $53,344 cut already made by the delegation for the hiring of two Department of Corrections officers.
It also reduced outside agency funding by over $160,000. The Belknap County Economic Development Council was cut from $75,000 to $1, Genesis Behavioral Health was reduced from $31,425 to $1, the Greater Lakes Region Child Advocacy Center from $11,000 to $1 and Community Action Program funding was cut by $13,000 with cuts for family planing. The Belknap County Conservation District was cut from $92,400 to $60,000.
Voting to support the cuts were Delegation Chairman Herb Vadney (R-Meredith), Rep. Glenn Aldrich (R-Gilford), Rep. Barbara Comtois (R-Barnstead) , Rep. Peter Varney (R-Alton,) Rep. Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont), Rep. Ray Howard (R-Alton), Rep. Marc Abear (R-Meredith), Rep. John Plumer (R-Belmont) and Rep, Norman Silber (R-Gilford).
Opposing the motion for cuts were Rep. Dennis Fields (R-Sanbornton), Rep. Tim Lang (R-Sanbornton), Rep. Peter Spanos (R-Laconia), Rep. Robert Fisher (R-Laconia), Rep. Michael Maloney (R-Gilmanton) and Rep. Dave Huot (D-Laconia).
The cuts came at an emotionally charged meeting at which opponents of the cuts which were eventually made to outside agencies challenged the delegation’s actions by showing up with signs supporting the agencies and yelled out during the meeting that the delegation was supporting a budget based on “alternative facts.”
After the cuts were made Delegation Chairman Vadney said that the vote showed that the outside agency programs “are not as popular with the people as they are with the people who run them.” He had earlier chastised Rep. Silber for going overboard in his description of those supporting or working for the outside agencies as “those living off the blood of the taxpayers.” Silber apologized for what he said was “an overstatement.”
Vadney opened the meeting by saying that the budget process was being drawn out by the commissioners in the hopes that their budget would be enacted by default. “They know that if they delay long enough they will get their full request as we will not have met the deadline,” said Vadney, who maintained that the details needed by the delegation to make decisions on the budget were not made readily available by the commission.
He was challenged by Rep. Dennis Fields (R-Sanbornton), who said Vadney was “bashing the commissioners” and choosing not to listen when explanations were presented.
Rep. Lang said he has had no problem getting any of the information he has requested from the commissioners and county administrators. He also questioned what impact Abear’s proposed budget changes would have on the previous cuts made by the delegation during budget deliberations.
Vadney said all of those changes were just preliminary and could be changed by a vote on an overall budget motion.
Abear said his proposal was an attempt to put forth a proposal which was “fair to all stakeholders” in the county, pointing out that there are many elderly people with fixed incomes who cannot afford a tax increase.
After the delegation voted on Abear’s budget, members agreed unanimously to lift a restriction on transfers which county commissioners can make within departmental budgets, prompting Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) to observe that “we’ve just been given permission to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said that the cuts are “absolutely devastating” and again said that the county is being forced to pay for a bad decision made by the last county delegation to use $605,000 from the fund balance to reduce taxes.
Commissioner Glen Waring (R-Gilmanton) said he found it hard to believe that the delegation could approve a budget without having the income adjustments Abear had made in front of them.
Abear was scheduled to present those numbers at Monday night’s meeting of the delegation.
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