June 25, 2014N. HAVERHILL— Nineteen members of the county delegation met to discuss the Grafton County budget on Monday morning. The meeting resulted in passage of the county's nearly $39 million operating budget for FY 2015.
Compared to current year spending, Executive Director Julie Clough said the FY2015 budget amounts to a 2.51 percent increase in the amount to be raised from taxation.
Mike Cryans, chairman of the board of commissioners, called the county spending plan "excellent" in short remarks to the delegation. "I'm very confidently endorsing the budget before you today," Cryans said.
During deliberation over the budget, the delegation discussed a motion from Rep. Rick Ladd, a Haverhill Republican. The motion would have reduced county payments to some social service organizations.
Like other counties and towns, Grafton County provides payments to various organizations that offer services to residents. Ladd's motion would have capped the county's funding of the agencies at $467,830, the amount in the current year's budget. This would have been a reduction of $40,648, or eight percent, in the level the county commissioners recommended for FY2015.
"I'm not negating the need," Ladd said to fellow delegation members. However, he was concerned about the growing level of spending on social service requests, especially when he sees people losing their homes because of high property taxes. Ladd noted some of the funding would actually go to Coös County organizations that provide transportation to Grafton County.
Ladd pointed out that Grafton County spends more than $5 per capita on the social service agency requests, higher than most other counties in the state. "This has to stop somewhere," he said. "I prefer to lower the tax rate and keep people in their homes," Ladd concluded.
Rep. Edmond Gionet, who represents Lincoln and Woodstock in the legislature, echoed Ladd's concerns. He noted that the average median income in Lincoln was only $28,000. He suggested the county's rising social service agency spending was not fair to taxpayers.
Other members of the delegation suggested the spending was a way to promote the county's interest in providing services to residents. The organizations being funded offer preventive services and other benefits with the potential to lower county expenses down the road, supporters of the funding said.
"Let the locals take care of it," Ladd replied. Ladd, who also serves as a Haverhill selectman, said he hopes for better drawing of lines between town and county responsibilities.
Ladd's motion only attracted the support of three other present members: Gionet, Brad Bailey, of Monroe, and Harold Reilly of Hill. These same four dissenters were also the only delegation members to vote against the overall county budget.
The other aspects of Monday's delegation meeting were less controversial. County Attorney Lara Saffo provided an update on plans to fund a director for the county's three alternative sentencing programs. The drug court, mental health court, and juvenile restorative justice have strong support in the delegation. The programs are a means for non-violent offenders to earn a clean record through prescribed actions overseen by judges, law enforcement, and community volunteers.
Saffo said alternative sentencing offers "a better way to serve our citizens and promote public safety." She anticipates that the new director would be able to consider ways for the county to create an adult alternative sentencing program.
The budget approved Monday also creates an assistant county attorney position in Saffo's office.