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.