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DHHS wants to relocate Conway office to Ossipee

January 24, 2013
OSSIPEE — The Commissioner of the N.H. Department of Health and Services (DHHS) has recommended to a legislative subcommittee that its Conway offices be relocated to Ossipee.

Commissioner Nicholas Toumpas presented his recommendation Nov. 27 to a committee in Concord that has a lengthy name Long Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee and was met with resistance from the only Carroll County state representative that was sitting on the committee, Rep. Gene Chandler (R-Bartlett). The committee was made up of six state representatives and four state senators, including N.H. Senator Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro).

According to the State's list of leased property, the Conway district office of DHHS is housed in a building on Hobbs Street that is leased from C & C Thibodeau Properties, LLC for $188,700 per year for 12, 447 square feet of office space.

Toumpas said the recommendation is to relocate the NH DHHS offices to a building the department will lease in Ossipee to move the offices to a location is more centrally located to the population served in this district. The department is currently in negotiations with a vendor who would construct a building on the former drive-in property near the intersection of Route 16 and Route 28 in Ossipee, behind the Hannaford and Ocean State Job Lots shopping center.

Shortly after the last state budget was passed, and with encouragement to try to find ways to cut costs by consolidating contracts and district field offices, N.H. DHHS officials set to work on looking at the department's long-range goals for serving the state's citizens.

"Taking the long view, we did a little bit of redistricting of our own where we looked at the patterns of where the clients were today as well as where we projected them to be moving forward, and we realigned some of the towns to be around a new area that we wanted to put an office that was going to achieve a number of different objectives for us. One was that we wanted to make sure that the location was accessible to all those particular towns, and, number two, that it would set the stage for us to be able to do further consolidations going forward. We wanted to make sure that people who were going to the office, it was going to be on a good road, a major road that connected a number of those particular areas and that it would be proximate to a number of related services, shopping, gas, prescription drugs, and so forth," said Toumpas.

N.H. DHHS administers a number of services out of their district offices including Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), WIC Vouchers (Women, Infants, and Children a program that provides vouchers for food that helps ensure proper nutrition), food stamps, child care benefits, Medicare benefits, emergency assistance, assistance for the homeless, and a long list of other social services. A complete list can be found on the department's website at http://www.dhhs.state.nh.us.

Toumpas said when considering the move, a request for proposals was put out and it was decided to go along with the Ossipee proposal. Carl Thibodeau, the Conway landlord, was at the hearing and he argued that when his first proposal was not accepted he should have been given the opportunity to modify it and resubmit it. He told the committee he was in the processes of making changes to his original proposal but was not given enough time to submit it. Toumpas said, even with modifications that might be made by the current landlord, the Conway building and location does not meet the needs of the department moving forward. "The existing facility would not meet the requirement that we have going forward. We want something that is going to have the safety, the security, the layout that we want moving forward for the type of offices that we want to do, and it's consistent with the consolidation that we want to do," Toumpas told the committee.

"When we looked at the existing facility we gave every opportunity to the existing landlord in order to basically comply and basically give us a proposal that was going to be able to meet our particular needs. They gave us a proposal. It does not completely meet our needs, and the proposal that we want to move forward with does meet our needs and comes in at a lower cost," Toumpas said.

Currently, the department has 11 district offices throughout the state including those in Laconia, Conway, and Rochester. Looking ahead to further consolidation of offices in the future on the Seacoast area, Toumpas said some of the towns served by those offices would be moved into the Ossipee office district. The Ossipee location is ideal, he said, due to its location near Route 16. For towns to the south such as Wakefield, Farmington and New Durham, it's a "straight shot up Route 16" and for towns north like Conway, "it's a straight shot down Route 16," he said. Other towns that will be included in the Ossipee district office service area when redistricting is complete are Alton, Center Harbor, Milton, and Strafford.

Thibodeau argued that, with some more time, he could come up with a plan that would save $30,000 a year. According to the meeting transcript, Chandler and Bradley seemed more focused on that cost savings than Toumpas' reasoning for wanting to make the move and put the district office in the center of the district. Chandler asked his fellow members on the committee to table the whole idea and let the new committee take up the issue once the newly-elected legislators were sworn in this month.

Rep. David Campbell (D-Nashua), chairman of the committee found Chandler's request unusual. "We have a process that we can go through, and I've been on this Committee for six years, and I don't think we get in the position of validating the process and going to the point of something that's cost effective. We asked our Commissioner many times to figure out what's cost-effective, what works best for the public, what works best for the State budget. I think he's done that. He's made his case, and now we're trying to open up a process. As unhappy as the current landlord is, I think if we turn over the apple cart here, we're going to have some unhappy people in Ossipee as well," said Campbell.

A representative from DHHS' public information office said the old Mountain View Nursing Home building on the Carroll County complex was considered as a possible relocation site for that agency's district office but did not meet the needs of the department.

Ultimately, though at least three members were hesitant, the committee voted to table the proposal until their next meeting. According to Rep. Campbell, as of press time, the committee's next meeting had not yet been set. He anticipated it would be held in late-February to early-March. Committee meetings are open to the public and are held in Concord. For information about upcoming meetings, the N.H. House Committee Services office can be contacted at 271-3600. Anyone wishing to express their opinion about the N.H. DHHS proposal to move their offices to Ossipee, can contact the committee by writing to: Long Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee, c/o Legislative Budget Office, State of New Hampshire, Concord, NH 03301 or contact their local state representative. To find out who your state representative is, call the NH House of Representatives at 271-3661 or visit their website at http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/house/.

The committee will consider the DHHS request and then make its recommendation, as they do with all requests to lease property, to the Executive Council. The Council then makes final decisions regarding leasing of property for State services. Raymond Burton is the Executive Councilor that serves Carroll County. His office can be reached at 271-2632 or by email at rburton@nh.gov.

The State currently leases about 730,892 square feet of building space throughout the state for government operations including health and human services, corrections, courts, liquor commission, and lottery commission at an annual price tag of about $11.8 million. A complete list of leases can be found at the NH Bureau of Planning and Management website at http://admin.state.nh.us/bpm/index2.asp.

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