LACONIA — Rep. Mike Sylvia is getting pushback, including from some of his own Republican colleagues, over comments critical of county support for agencies that help people with substance abuse and mental health problems.
He also lost a pair of votes, each by a 12-5 margin, at the Friday meeting of the overwhelmingly Republican Belknap County Legislative Delegation.
In one of the votes, Republican Rep. Timothy Lang was allowed to enter a motion that county officials don't have to go before a delegation committee every time they want to move more than $1,000 from one use to another within a department. In the other vote, the motion was approved.
Rep. Dennis Fields, R-Sanbornton, accused Sylvia of cutting off representatives as they were speaking.
Sylvia complained a few times that “chaos had broken out.” He banged his gavel to stop Lang when Lang first tried to make his motion.
Later in the meeting, Fields, appearing frustrated at being interrupted, brought up some legal difficulties Sylvia is facing in Belmont, where Sylvia is under a court order not to reside in a converted garage and recreational vehicle.
“See how you cut us off?” Fields said. “That’s the way you are, you can’t take care of your own thing in Belmont and you come here and tell us what to do.”
Sylvia, R-Belmont, opposes a County Commission recommendation that the county continue to participate in a program in which money that originates with the federal government is directed to a regional network of organizations that provide assistance to people with mental health and substance abuse problems.
“To say that you can cure these people by throwing money at them, sorry, it’s not true,” he told The Laconia Daily Sun last week. “We can spend a tremendous amount of money and not get any results and build an industry out of sympathy for these people, who are in a terrible position, but I don’t see this as a solution.”
Fields objected to those remarks Friday.
“I did not like reading in the paper that you said it’s a sympathy thing,” Fields said. “That bothered me. It is not sympathy. We’re helping people. These people need the help and if we help some people and they get on the right track, we’re doing a good job.”
He elaborated in an interview on Monday.
“I wanted to let him know, we're not there for the sympathy, but we are there to help with our constituents,” Fields said. “They have problems and we need to deal with them. Anywhere we can get one person to save their life and get them on the right track, we’re doing something good.”
Reps. Frank Tilton, R-Laconia; Lang, R-Sanbornton; David Huot, D-Laconia; and Charlie St. Clair, D-Laconia, also spoke in favor of adequate funding for people with mental health and substance abuse problems.
Sylvia is on an executive committee of the delegation that called for a number of cuts in the budget recommended by the County Commission. One of those cuts was a proposed $32,000 allocation from the county to the Lakes Region Mental Health Center.
The money would be used to provide short-term mental health services to uninsured or underinsured county residents 18 or older who do not meet the eligibility for state-contracted services.
Ann Nichols, a spokeswoman for Lakes Region Mental Health Center, said the agency provides short-term services of this nature to about 1,000 people a year in Belknap County.
“Patients in this program seek counseling for issues such as family and marital problems, stress, depression, bereavement, or coping with a life-changing event such as dealing with the diagnosis of a serious illness, a divorce or a job loss,” she said.
She said that without such treatment, these problems can escalate, creating a bigger burden for emergency rooms, law enforcement, corrections and the court system.
“The continued elimination of funding support will result in a decrease in medically necessary care for people in need of mental health treatment,” Nichols said.
The County Commission proposed a $31 million county budget for 2019. The legislative delegation has the final say in approving the spending plan.
The delegation’s executive committee spent hours over numerous meetings going over the proposed budget and recommended $2 million in cuts.
Rather than adopt a budget Friday, delegation members said they wanted to go over the spending plan more thoroughly in future meetings. The delegation is expected to meet again early next month.
Reached on Monday, Sylvia did not repeat his remarks that “chaos had broken out” in the meeting.
“Members were not prepared to deal with the budget,” he said. “They had more digesting to do, so we will do more digesting.
“You’ve got 18 individuals and they had an assortment of ways of looking at things. It was not as orderly as I would think.”
All delegation members were present at the meeting Friday, with the exception of John Plumer, R-Belmont. St. Clair and Huot are the only Democrats in the delegation.