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Joyce Endee

County commissioners encourage town cooperation

July 01, 2009
Nearing the end of their trip to all their county towns, the Belknap County Commissioners encouraged Gilford officials to talk to other towns and exchange ideas.

"I approve of a bottom up approach to government," said Richard Long, county commissioner. "This is something we have heard in other towns, and it can save money."

This was in response to Selectman John O'Brien asking if the commissioners has considered arranging a meeting between the department heads of all the Belknap County towns. He used the Department of Public Works as an example. Long said that that towns had saved $20,000 in some cases by working together.

"I think it needs to be a grassroots movement," said O'Brien. "Those are the guys that are out there and doing it. They are the ones that will be able to go and get things done."

The commissioners gave a presentation, as they have done in other towns, that focuses on the structure of county government and what the county pays for with the money they receive from the towns. Gilford taxes make up 14 percent of the total received taxes for the town. The only towns with a larger percentage are Laconia and Meredith.

"You pay a significant portion of the tax bill," said Christopher Boothby, chairman of the commission. "You should know what you are getting for that money."

Selectman Kevin Hayes asked about the money used to fund outside agencies. The issue of paying for non-governmental agencies has been a divisive issue in Gilford, Hayes pointed out, and as a result the agencies are voted on individually on an annual basis. One of the main concerns for the town is that they have not seen a comprehensive budget for the agencies.

"I was wondering if we could somehow get a list of exactly what they use the money for and where they get it from," said Hayes. "That way people would be more informed about what they are voting on."

Commissioner Edward Philpot said that this not a new idea, and the commission is trying to step away from simply handing the towns a bill for county taxes. He said they want to go into more detail about what each item on the budget pays for and why it is there.

"Genesis is a perfect example," said Philpot. "They get money from the town and from the state and from the county. People didn't understand that the money from the county is for a very specific program that wasn't funded anywhere else."

He explained that a lot of people wonder why they are paying from town, county and state taxes for these programs without realizing that the money from each place is used toward specific expenses.

"If you have questions about this," said Philpot, "then that is our failure for lack of communication."

He said that the commissioners are re-organizing the budget structure so there will be more opportunities for public input as they work through the upcoming budget cycle.

The commissioners also mentioned the newly implemented House Bill 2 and its effect on the amount the county and state have to pay for certain services. Before HB2 the county paid for Aid to Permanent and Totally Disabled, Old Age Assistance, 50 percent of Child Services and 50 percent of non-federal nursing care costs. The state paid 50 percent of Child Services and 50 percent of non-federal nursing care costs.

After HB2 the county is paying for 100 percent of the non-federal nursing care costs while the state pays for Old Age Assistance, APTD and 100 percent of Child Services.

"The problem with that is the state could never meet their obligation," said Boothby. "This may seem like we are getting the short end of the deal, but what made it palatable for us is the cap on what the county pays for the nursing home costs."

Boothby said as long as the cap remains in place the county should be fine. He noted that there was a time when the nursing home put money back into the county, but that was about 12 years ago.

Boothby invited the town to attend their open session after they have visited all the towns to discuss what the commissioners learned and a course of action.

"We are non-judgmental here," said Boothby. "We really want your feedback and opinions."

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