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We are concerned about Belknap County budget cuts

To The Sun:

We are writing to voice our deep concern regarding the cuts to the Belknap County budget, which we feel are shortsighted and will adversely affect the opening of the new Community Corrections Center that is absolutely needed to help rebuild a healthy, safe and vibrant Lakes Region community!

On March 13th, seven of our Belknap county delegates (7-5) voted against the motion of Rep Tim Lang (R-Sanbornton) to restore the $95,400 that had been cut from the proposed Corrections Dept budget. In the Fall of 2015, many of us were in attendance when the Community Corrections Center proposal was put forth and the aspect of the proposal that resonated with many of us was the intensive programming that would be available for the inmates during their time incarcerated at Belknap County Jail.

As most in our community are aware, our county, state and many parts of our country are battling a serious public health issue – substance misuse. This issue has rocked many communities, including those in Belknap County, to their core. This disease has caused heartache and despair for individuals, their families and friends. It impacts securing a productive workforce and enticing new businesses and families to move to our community. So, yes, it needs to be addressed on so many levels and the staffing of the Community Corrections Center is an important piece of this puzzle.

Here are a few facts and statistics to take into account:
• Approximately 85 percent of the inmates incarcerated in the Belknap County Jail have substance misuse as the root cause of their criminal charge.
• Belknap County recidivism rate is an astounding 72 percent, which means that roughly three in four inmates released from our jail end up back in our jail.
• The fiscal cost of incarceration is great and the cost per inmate at Belknap County Jail is more than $100 per day.
• Regional Youth Risk Behavior Survey data indicates that nearly 14 percent of high school students in the region had a family member in jail or in prison and research shows that children of incarcerated family members tend to struggle in school.
• The Community Corrections Center is modeled on programming that is present in many county jails and has data that demonstrates successful outcomes.
• In our own state, Sullivan County implemented this model and reduced its recidivism from 58 percent to 18 percent.

The Community Corrections model is proven to reduce recidivism, which will have long term economic benefits from reduced jail costs and more productive citizens who are less reliance on public assistance. Moreover, reducing recidivism will have a profound impact on the families of those who are incarcerated, as we must remember that each person incarcerated is someone's loved one. For these reasons, it is common sense to us that the Community Corrections Center is an important investment in the future of Belknap County and that the Belknap County Delegation should restore its funding to necessary levels.

If you care about this issue you need to let your representatives know how you feel. They will be meeting Tuesday, March 28, at The Belknap County Delegation at 6 p.m. located at 34 County Drive, Laconia, or call the following members who voted against reinstating this money Commission Chair Herb Vadney (R-Meredith), Rep. Ray Howard (R-Alton), Rep Barbara Contois (R- Barnstead), Rep Peter Varney (R-Alton), Rep Marc Abear (R-Meredith), Rep Norman Silber (R-Gilford) and Rep Glenn Aldrich (R-Gilford).

Amy Beaudoin
Clare and Mike Persson

Patrick Kiefer
Chief Chris Adams
Elaine and Dick Smith
Henry and Trish Weatherbee
Jennifer O'Reilly
Judi Lundh
Paula Gile
Richard Castrucci
Tammy Emery

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Lawmakers personal agendas & posturing will be damaging immediately

To The Daily Sun,

Wow, what a sad vote for our county. The delegation has set us back some 25 years with their recent vote on the budget. It is very evidence that many of our elected representatives do not understand, let alone value, the significant work and impact of the outside agencies. Sadly, too many individuals run for office because they are so intent on "fixing Concord or the system" and not enhancing. I am sadden that state representatives do not realize the role they play in county government and how their actions and decisions can either damage or enhance the quality of life and, more importantly, the prosperity of our county and residents.

I have had the great privilege of serving Belknap County, its municipalities, businesses, organizations, and residents from 1992 until 2007. In 1991, the commissioners included $1 in the outside agencies' budget for a county economic development organization. The next year, with some resistance from the delegation, this allocation was raised to $35,000 if a match could be raised. The Belknap County Economic Development Council (BCEDC) was formed and in July 1992, I set up an office in the commissioners' supply closet. The county, businesses, and residents were dealing with the recent collapse of five major banks and the recall of business loans, the majority to our tourism and construction companies. The county had the highest unemployment, officially recorded at 11.5 percent, but in reality closer to 17 percent, which led also to unprecedented property foreclosures. This fledgling organization embraced the challenges despite limited financial resources and many skeptics.

Maybe how economic development was structured for Belknap County is best explained by one of the first grants we received. By the NHCF's own admission, they had never considered awarding money to an "economic/business organization." At the end of the grant period, they shared that the BCEDC had changed their mindset on how they would award grants saying, "We have given entities money and they go buy fish; the foundation gave you (BCEDC) money and you taught folks to fish." Building resources, educating, training, and connecting entities has been our role since inception.

Over the years, the county's contribution increased and varied based on services we developed and projected funding we sought to cover program expenses. We only requested dollars for activities that we could not fund through the many resources we sought, such as grants, contributions, or revenues from loans. Most outside funding came with restrictions. We detailed to the commissioners how the funds were used.

In my 15 years as executive director, the county awarded us approximately $850,000 in funding and on my retirement we were a few thousand dollars shy of $3 million in cash assets. These assets had restrictions, but they were benefiting Belknap County. We were partnering with banks to lend to both start-ups and seasoned businesses with need. I emphasize that these businesses were increasing the tax base while creating employment and economic opportunities for our region.

We sought to assist all of our economic sectors/drivers — manufacturing, tourism, retail, health care, agriculture, education, training, non-profits, etc., as we recognized their inter-relationships and well-being contributed to everyone's economic vitality and prosperity. BCEDC became the model for other regional economic development organizations throughout the state. To this day, the BCEDC has stayed committed to serving and assisting all sectors of our region.

Not only were we the first regional (not-for-profit) development organization in New Hampshire, we were the first to be an intermediary re-lender through USDA Rural Development. By partnering with our banking community, we captured assistance that benefited not only our loan fund, but also lenders and borrowers. Our work in economic development and workforce training has gathered accolades from state, federal and national agencies. We have been recognized on the floor of the U.S. Senate, in the Congressional Record, and by the SBA as Financial Advocate of the Year — a first for a New Hampshire non-profit economic development entity.

Through the years we have been asked how did we create so many jobs per capita in the county in the mid- to late 1990s and how were we the best wired county in this same period? We did and we were, because we developed resources, sought training opportunities, created partnerships, and did everything we could to put our county on the road to economic vitality and prosperity by finding a lot of byways.
We have helped business access tens of millions in financing and also assisted non-profits and municipalities in accessing millions in grants. We have promoted job-training programs and helped businesses secure funds to enhance employees' skills. We launched many partnerships with Employment Security, including an initiative called "Making It in the Lakes Region," which introduced students to industries in our region. Companies not only showcased their products and employment opportunities to the future workforce, but they opened their doors to educators so they could see how what they taught was being utilized. This program went statewide as NH First Job in partnership with NH Works and NHES. We developed opportunities for internships with a website we first launched as Live, Work and Play NH.

The work and involvement of the organization could fill pages — the questions we answered, the introductions we made, the partnerships we fostered, the training opportunities we mounted, the buildings we repurposed, and the loans we made. We also worked to secure childcare facilities and workforce housing. We championed a creative economy, recognizing that each of us had a different definition of economic well-being and prosperity. All possible because we truly believed that together we make a difference.

Wherever I traveled, the partnership initiatives and progressive thinking of the county leadership — commissioners, delegation, and local elected officials — was praised. I was often asked, "How did you get them to do this?"

I can tell you that when all the players took the time and interest in understanding how the pieces fit together, or even overlaid, there existed an open and cooperative relationship. Today, unfortunately, the people our elected officials are meant to serve are being short-changed by several delegation members. It is very sad to witness such self-serving agendas.

Not too long ago elected officials, county departments, and those of us serving the county in outside agencies worked together to improve services, increase opportunities and enhance the economic vitality and quality of life for all our residents. I am reminded of what the late county commissioner Norman Marsh would ask, "What have you done for Belknap County today?" A few Delegation members should have a real rethink. Your personal agendas, posturing and budget cuts will be damaging immediately.

Eliza Leadbeater
Executive Director (Retired)

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