By ROGER AMSDEN, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Nearly 18 months after unanimously approving an $8 million, 18,000-square-foot community corrections center, Belknap County lawmakers are wrestling with questions about funding the staff needed to operate the facility and provide programs for the inmates.
Belknap County Delegation Chairman Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) asked "Where is the money going to come from to run the corrections center and are we going to build a program we can't afford?" and said that ever since planning for a new jail started five years he has been asking the same question.
Vadney said he is concerned that, even if he county receives the $216,000 grant for programs that it is seeking for the next three years, at some point down the road funding for those positions will become the responsibility of county taxpayers.
His comments came at a Monday morning meeting of the Executive Committee of the Belknap County Delegation, at which committee member Marc Abear (R-Meredith) also expressed concern about the grants which are being sought by the Belknap County Commission for funding programs at the center and asked "How do we convince the public we're spending money the right way?"
Abear questioned the accuracy of the recidivism numbers for Sullivan County which commissioners have cited in support of the programs which will be offered at the new corrections center.
Vadney also said he is concerned by the tenor of comments made by Belknap County Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy last week that the commission is prepared to go ahead and hire additional corrections officers deemed necessary for opening the center even though the delegation had voted at one point to cut two of the the four which had been in the department's budget request.
DeVoy tried to allay Vadney's fears by saying that the commissioners planned to hire the additional officers but would seek to transfer funds from other departments and keep total county spending within the amount set by the delegation.
He said having a full complement of corrections officers is important to being able to receive the grant funds, which he said will be used to pay for the services of contractors who will provide the programs for those housed in the 64-bed corrections center, which is slated to open in September.
He said that a supplemental appropriation will be sought by the commission later this year to the county budget and indicated that the corrections department is about $250,000 short of where it needs to be.
DeVoy also said that, in the event the county does not receive the grants for the corrections center, commissioners will be prepared to present a plan for budget transfers from other departments which will allow programs to be offered.
He also said there is a possibility that some of the grant funding for programs will still be available to the county after the initial three-year period.
DeVoy recounted the arguments made on behalf of the $8 million community corrections center before it was approved and said programs are designed "to do something different with people who put something bad in their bodies."
Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia) said the idea of the community corrections center is to provide programs which help people with substance abuse problems get back into the community in positive ways.
"They are our problem," he said. "We can sit back and throw stones, but we can't take back what we've done with building the center."
Rep. Peter Spanos (R-Laconia), who took part in the three-hour meeting by telephone, said he understood when he voted for the community corrections center that there would be a need for additional staffing and that he supports funding for those positions.
The committee tabled a request from commissioners to transfer $61,000 from the contingency fund to repair a faulty sprinkler system at the Belknap County Nursing Home and defeated a request to transfer $15,000 from the contingency fund for debt service.