I would like to thank the County Commissioners, Deb Shackett and the staff at Belknap County Corrections for a very informative and educational tour on Thursday.
In past years the commissioners would go out to towns and present updates called "County Conversations" to selectboards around the county.
This year your selectboards were invited to go to them and see what the different departments actually do, what we have accomplished with infrastructure and programs and what our needs are going forward. Which was a great idea; I personally learned new things about county and observed some interesting things.
We met at the court house and stopped at the several areas including Youth Services, County Attorney, Register of Deeds, and the court room.
The Youth Services gave us an update on new programs that they are implementing with a 68-77 percent success rate for adults and Juveniles. Great news!
We observed thousands of books dating back to the 1700s to book #1 at the Registry.
We also toured the exterior, new roof top heat pump units (viewed from the ground!), new windows and a new composite roof that has a 50 year warranty, all of this being paid with federal stimulus money. (I can hear two guys ranting "it's not free")
We then drove over to the County Complex. Starting in the administration wing which was renovated to allow those staff to work in a secure environment, we walked through the entire building.
We then had a tour of the Sheriff Dept. and dispatch area which was also very interesting.
Last stop was the corrections facility. Commissioner Thomas informed us that the building has had a span of construction projects which range from 1890 to 1988. Entering from the sheriff area, we walked down a long hallway and up a narrow set of stairs to "the old crutch factory" where there are 13 or so cots to house the women. Also up there is a bathroom with a shower, sink and toilet. It was also very hot. The women had been recently been moved to the "gym" because of the temperature in the crutch factory.
The rest of the facility was also viewed and I will simply say that the conditions are unsanitary, unsafe and unacceptable for the employees and for those incarcerated. I could go on for 20 pages describing what I observed but that is not the intent of this letter. The unacceptable behavior in the county arena has to change. The duty of the County Commissioners, which is the oldest form of county government in America, are to approve budgets, oversee spending and hire county employees, among other duties. The County Delegation seems to want both jobs. First off, the county budget is the responsibility of the commission, Second, how in the hell can the delegation control the budget when they have no idea what they are dealing with? For example, I asked how many delegation members had taken a tour like the one we had and the number was three — back in 2008. Really?! I suggest that the delegation schedule the very same tour that the selectboards are taking, I know they will learn something.
The situation with the county corrections facility is to a point where the answer is not yes or no, but rather how. There is a big difference between liberal and humanitarian and there is a big difference between spend and investment.
Selectman Carla Horne