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Budget Committee splits on recommending funding requests from service agencies

January 17, 2019
Tied votes resulted in the Budget Committee not recommending articles that would provide funding to two regional service agencies.

Article 21, which asked for $21,000 toward Lakes Region Mental Health Center and Article 22 of $2,630 for New Beginnings Without Violence & Abuse will reflect they were not recommended by the Budget Committee in a vote of five for and five against with one member abstaining during Thursday's budget hearing.

Ann Nichols, Director of Development and Public Relations for Lakes Region Mental Health Center (LRMHC) and also a Gilford resident, talked to the committee about the request from LRMHC.

The organization is asking the town for $21,000 to provide emergency mental health services for town residents. LRMHC serves 24 towns in Belknap and southern Grafton Counties and the organization is asking each of these communities for money for emergency psychiatric services.

Last year LRMHC served 232 Gilford residents, 74 of those receiving emergency services. Nichols said this is a significant increase from past years. The organization delivered $44,000 in uncompensated care to Gilford residents due to the patients not having insurance or the financial means to pay for their care and don't qualify for Medicaid and other state services.

LRMHC is contracted by the state to deliver emergency psychiatric services to patients at Lakes Region General Hospital, Speare Memorial Hospital, and the designated receiving unit at Franklin Regional Hospital; a contract that doesn't include funding to provide these services.

"I'm asking the town to consider supporting our organization so that we can continue to provide the type of mental health services that are certainly very important to all the residents," Nichols said.

Budget Committee member Skip Murphy asked about any government funding the organization receives. Nichols said they ask for money from the counties for adult outpatient programs and grants and Medicaid reimbursement from the federal government. For emergency services they are given a $94,000 allotment from the state Bureau of Behavioral Health, though the organization usually runs a deficit of $400,000 to $500,000 for emergency services. The organization asks for money from the towns it serves to help offset the costs for emergency care and depending on how voting goes they usually receive around $150,000, a small percentage of their revenue.

Murphy said it seemed like LRMHC was getting a bite of tax dollars four times over, Nichols said the request of the towns was only for emergency services.

Murphy said he considered it "immoral" for community organizations to ask for taxpayer dollars. He said he would rather see charities put in efforts to get private donations instead of asking for public funds.

"I get tired of external organizations coming here and demanding money from people who otherwise wouldn't be paying to you, but are forced to through your property taxes," Murphy said.

He said it should be the voters' individual decision if they want to donate to these organizations and taking money from taxation takes away their choice.

The committee was split on whether it should vote to recommend the articles or not to recommend. The board of selectmen already voted unanimously to not recommend the article.

Committee member Peter Karagianis said the voters can decide for themselves if they want to put that money toward these organizations, but the committee shouldn't be in a position to recommend that. Nichols said a lot of voters pay attention to the recommendation of the different boards and committees and might not be as informed about the article.

"You take that away from the residents when you adopt not to recommend," Nichols said.

Members of the committee asked for some more detailed financial information on LRMHC. Nichols said their financial information was public and was willing to provide any additional information. Karagianis said they weren't in a position to recommend because of a lack of financial information.

School Board representative Chris McDonough said the best way to get the message to the voters that the committee didn't want to express an opinion was to abstain from voting.

The Budget Committee voted five in favor and five against with McDonough abstaining on motions to recommend both articles. The motions failed and it will appear on the ballot that the Budget Committee voted to not recommend the articles by a vote of 5-5.

Garnet Hill
Penny Pitou
Martin Lord Osman
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