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Joyce Endee

Tilton chair 'protesting' regionalization

July 01, 2009
TILTON — Unlike several neighboring Belknap County municipalities that have voiced support for regionalization during their talks with the county commissioners, Tilton may not be quite as gung ho for such integrated services.

Board of Selectmen Chair Katherine Dawson said during the Belknap County Commissioners visit last Thursday that she was "protesting" the idea of implementing regionalized services. She pointed out that the Tilton-Northfield Fire Department is a well-established example of regionalization, as is the Winnisquam Regional School District, which was one of the first school districts to form in the state.

"For us, we're already doing it, have been for years," Dawson said. "Regionalization is nothing new to us."

Throughout their recent meetings with town officials and residents from the county's municipalities, the commissioners have listened to feedback regarding county-funded services and thoughts on potential procedural improvements. One of the most oft-repeated suggestions has been regionalization in all kinds of areas. In Sanbornton, for example, town officials mentioned regionalized planning and insurance coverage. Barnstead talked about a solid waste package, and in speaking with Gilford and Laconia, the idea of sharing sand and salt between the two was raised.

"We've gotten bits and pieces of this in every town," Commissioner Edward Philpot said.

Dawson, however, said she doesn't want to see the county's communities, some of which are very different from one another, melding services.

"I'd be concerned," she said. "We're all unique communities – I'd hate to have us be compared to Meredith … I'm protesting it."

State Representative Liz Merry of Sanbornton told Dawson that regionalization was nowhere near being a done deal and at this point is simply a topic of discussion.

"We're going to pick up themes that towns want to talk about," Merry said. "One of them might be regionalization."

Commission Chair Chris Boothby took it a step further, saying that the commissioners will not start any new initiatives without many more conversations.

"What I can definitely promise is, because I feel the same way you do, nothing is going to be imposed on you," Boothby said.

"I think most importantly it has to work to everybody's benefit," Philpot agreed, adding that Tilton has the advantage of having experienced regionalization. "You guys have model in place to say how or how not to do something."

After taking her stance on regionalization, Dawson also made sure the commissioners knew their visit was appreciated.

"In my nine years as a selectman, this is a first; (usually) they're just sending us the bill," she said. "It is excellent that you are here."

Though the commissioners didn't show the Power Point presentation in Tilton that they've shown in other towns, they highlighted some of the county's programs and explained funding. Tilton pays for 5 percent of the county budget, slightly more than Sanbornton and Center Harbor but significantly less than Gilford and Meredith.

One of their most valued services, the commissioners said, is their restorative juvenile justice programs. They emphasized that prevention – keeping youth out of the court system – saves money in the long run, and that citizens' concerns that some outside agencies might be "double dipping" by requesting funds from the county and individual towns are unfounded. However, they have repeatedly said that they are working to reconfigure juvenile justice services to make them less costly and more efficient.

"We do extra here in Belknap County," Philpot said. "We've seen a lot of support for our outside agencies in these discussions."

The County Commission's stop in Tilton was one of its last, as its "County Conversations" tour winds down. The last scheduled meeting with a town board will be this evening in New Hampton. After that, the commissioners have said they want to hold a forum where all the ideas they've been presented with can be discussed.

"Whatever happens with this … is a matter of all people being involved," State Representative Alida Milham of Gilford said. "It's gonna take everybody working together."

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