Near-zero 2016 budget adopted by county commissioners



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Cos County Commissioner Paul Grenier, left, of Berlin took the lead on Feb. 10 in finding ways for the board — including chairman Tom Brady, center, of Jefferson and clerk Rick Samson of Stewartstown — to present a nearly zero-increase budget for approval to the county delegation of state representatives in March. (Photo by Edith Tucker) (click for larger version)
February 17, 2016
STEWARTSTOWN — County taxpayers can rejoice. The Cos County commissioners voted at their Feb. 10 monthly meeting to adopt an almost-zero-increase 2016 budget.

Commissioner Paul Grenier explained that he had worked over the figures at his home on Sunday morning, and he presented his recommendations to the other two commissioners.

The board embraced his recommendations.

Commissioner Rick Samson, however, disagreed with the idea of increasing the responsibilities and salary of a current county employee so that she could focus on the human resources function. He voted "no" on that solution, since he believes that creating a full-time Director of Human Resources position. Samson questioned not only the in-house employee's qualifications but also the ability, qualifications and experience of county administrator Jennifer Fish to know what HR functions must be performed for county operations to run smoothly.

He accused the other two commissioners of making this decision in advance of this public meeting.

Grenier explained that he envisions having the in-house candidate's performance carefully reviewed in December so that if this solution does not work out, another one course of action could be sought.

Hiring a new full-time HR employee would cost $90,000 to $100,000, if health insurance and retirement benefits were taken into consideration, he explained.

Upgrading an existing position to 40 hours, starting on April 1, would only add $9,117 to the 2016 budget, Grenier pointed out. This figure was rounded up to $10,000 when the bottom line was determined.

"We'll see how it works," he said, after being sure that Fish had told the current employee that this could be the case.

The county delegation of state representatives has invited Jane Jontz to its 10 a.m. meeting on Friday in Lancaster to describe her duties as Sullivan County's Director Human Resources, leading a three-person department at a salary of $77,500.

Grenier pointed out, however, that the commissioners have the responsibility to make hiring and other management decisions; the delegation's role, similar to a town meeting, is to approve the county's budget.

The commissioners' budget of $35,445,015, which barely increases the portion to be paid by county taxpayers is the result of several factors.

The commissioners voted unanimously to join the Stewartstown Water District, subject to the District representatives on hand, including the selectmen, confirming in writing that it will be responsible for installing a booster pump to maintain adequate water pressure on the nursing home's upper two floors.

Grenier noted that this decision not only means the county will be a "good neighbor," but also frees personnel from all testing requirements that have led to "no-boil" orders, thus allowing maintenance workers to concentrate on the many other duties that must be performed in an older facility. To pay for the conversion, the commissioners added another $321,000 in surplus funds to the already-encumbered $276,354, for a total of nearly $600,000, to move forward on the conversion project that Grenier repeatedly noted would allow them to "wash their hands" of an antiquated on-site water system that otherwise would have had to be brought up to today's NHDES requirements. The county will pay $13,000 to the District, plus a per-gallon usage fee.

To pay for a new better-insulated roof and new mechanical air-intake vents at the Berlin nursing home, the commissioners will take out a $560,000 note, likely for 10 years at 2.39 percent. Only interest will be due in the first year.

The commissioners also voted to use $1,272,043 from surplus — up by $995,687 from the proposed Dec. 2015 budget — now that the preliminary audit figures are done.

Two small items were added the county's operating budget: a $28,200 upgrade to the camera system in the Corrections Department and $10,000 to pay an in-house employee to take on more HR functions.

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