Department heads call county cuts ‘irresponsible’ and ‘like a kick in the head’

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners, maintaining that both the Corrections Department and Sheriff's Department are not adequately funded, are asking the Belknap County Delegation to reconsider the $27.487 million budget it adopted Monday night.
Commissioners Glen Waring (R-Gilmanton) and Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) met Wednesday night with Corrections Superintendent Keith Gray, Sheriff Mike Myers and Nursing Home Administrator Shelley Richardson to discuss the budget cuts and their impact on their departments.
The commissioners agreed that the cuts threaten the ability of both the corrections department and the sheriff to carry out the statutory and constitutional obligations placed on their departments.
Gray said this week that he will not open the new 18,000-square-foot, 64-bed Community Corrections Center this September unless he has the money to adequately staff it. He made the statement after the delegation Monday night rejected by a 7-5 vote a motion by Rep. Tim Lang (R-Sanbornton) to restore $95,400 which had been cut from the proposed Corrections Department budget.
Gray has maintained that he cannot safely open the annex without two additional staffers. Lang's motion would have restored the $55,400 for the two positions and $40,000 for dietary department at the jail, which Gray had added to his original $3.964 million budget request.
"I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me," said Gray, who said that without adequate manpower both the staff and the inmates will be at risk.
He also cited potential liability issues which the county could face with inadequate staffing if someone is injured in an incident. And he said that the cut places in jeopardy the possibility of obtaining $450,000 in grant funding over a three-year period for programs at the community corrections center.
He said that the county delegation knew when it unanimously approved an $8 million bond in November 2015 for the corrections center that additional staffing costs were estimated at $650,183 annually.
Gray said that the cut was "a kick in the head to my staff " and said that the commissioners should look at the building program currently going on and decide whether they may have to stop it before old portions of the current jail are taken out of service as the change would be irreversible after that.
Commissioner Taylor said that cuts appear to be arbitrary and capricious and were made without considering their impact.
Sheriff Moyer said that the $126,736 which was cut from his budget endangers the department's ability to carry out its duties, which include serving civil process papers and court security. The cuts removed one full-time deputy position and one full-time dispatcher position and cut overtime by $10,000.
"It was totally reckless. No member of the delegation spoke to me at all about the cut or its impact. It came as a shock to me when I found out that they were making that cut." said Moyer.
Commissioners also discussed a $290,810 revenue the delegation had included in the budget which is based on legislation which has not yet passed on retirement program costs in which the state would pay part of what is now being paid by counties and local governments.
Commissioner Waring said that the funds are not assured and cannot be counted as a revenue. County Administrator Debra Shackett said that the latest information she has is that the county will only realize a $75,000 savings if the legislation is passed.

Library study, facility improvements find support at Meredith meeting


MEREDITH — Property taxes will increase under an operating budget and warrant articles approved by voters at the Town Meeting on Wednesday.

The hike will be 16 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation, or $32 for a $200,000 home.

All told, voters boosted yearly spending to $14.72 million, up from $14.02 million spent last year.

Selectman Nathan Torr said the budget includes a 1.5 percent wage increase for all city workers. There are also increases in health insurance and liability insurance costs.

"This is just due to the times being the times," Torr said.  "Things go up and that's the way it is."

Money measures approved included $13.84 million for general municipal operations and an additional $830,000 for Public Works, the Fire Department, waterfront infrastructure, solid waste and recreational facilities.

Voters also approved a $50,000 appropriation for a study into the feasibility of expanding and renovating the library in the Benjamin Smith Building, which lacks satisfactory handicapped access.

There have been previous studies of the building. A committee will be formed to look at the future of the building.

"We would hope that over the last eight years all the information that they have gathered through various studies and architects, the first thing on the table will be that pile of information," Town Manager Phil Warren said.

He said the study will look at ways of improving the building, and not the feasibility of moving the library elsewhere.

Voters also expanded eligibility for a $500 veterans tax credit. The credit will be available to any resident, or the spouse or surviving spouse of any resident, who had at least 90 days of active service in the military and was honorably discharged.
Census data indicates there are 450 veterans in Meredith. A total of 374 of them take advantage of the credit. That leaves 76 people who would qualify under the expanded eligibility, for a total potential cost of $38,000.

Voters also approved the purchase of 200 acres of land adjacent to Page Pond Community Forest for conservation purposes. No new tax money is to be used for this purpose. Instead, the land is to be purchased from the Winn Mountain Corporation for $1.12 million with grants, private donations and transfers from conservation funds. Hunting and snowmobiling would be allowed on this land. 

They also discontinued Leavitt Mountain Road as a public roadway from its start at Chemung Road to its termination within property owned by Linda R. Lee Revocable Trust 2003. This is about a half-mile of dirt road that is not maintained by the town.

New Hampton voters agree to plan to move Grange Hall


NEW HAMPTON — At Town Meeting this week, voters took several steps towards sparing the Grange Hall from the wrecking ball and returning the building to its original site alongside its elder cousin, the Town House, on the town common at the corner of Town House Road and Dana Hill Road.

First, by a margin of 160 to 106, voters agreed to appropriate $4,000, matching a grant from the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, to evaluate the feasibility and costs of acquiring, moving and restoring the building.

Second, in anticipation of undertaking the project, voters approved an appropriation of $150,000 and authorized the expenditure of other monies , including private donations as well as state and federal grants, to fund it by a vote of 146 to 118. The appropriation is contingent on the affirmative vote of a special town meeting to be held in May or June, after the completion of the evaluation.

Finally voters, approved to convene a committee, consisting of two members of the public and one selectman or the board's designee, to manage the use of the building, by a vote of 160 to 103.

The building is currently owned by the New Hampton Community Church, which plans to raze it before the year is out, but has offered to donate it to the town.

Built in 1828, the two-and-a-half story structure, 31 feet by 58 feet, originally served as the chapel of the New Hampton Academical and Theological Institute, a school sponsored by the New Hampshire Baptist Society. In 1852, when the society withdrew its support, the school moved to Fairfax, Vermont, where it soon ceased to operate. Meanwhile, Col. Rufus G. Lewis, together with the Freewill Baptists who accounted for most of townspeople, formed a corporation, the New Hampton Literary and Biblical Institute, which purchased the building, along with "The Brick," a four-story, 100-foot-by-36-foot structure, and moved both to the village in 1853.
"The Brick" became Randall Hall, while the other became Commercial Hall, where, as one J.H. Roberts taught penmanship, it became known as the "Writin' Room." In 1870, the Biblical department of the school moved to Lewiston, Maine, to join Bates College while what remained adopted a commercial regimen and grew into New Hampton Commercial College, the nucleus of the New Hampton School for Boys formed in 1910.In 1911, the trustees of the school gave the "Writin' Room" to the New Hampton Grange, which moved the building to its current location on Main Street and added a 22-foot extension to the back of the building to house a stage.